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Posted by: Zaena Campbell on April 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

Regent tailors neon signThis Museum Monday we’re basking in the glow of this iconic Regent Tailors sign (circa 1946 to 1975). Today, the sign hangs in the MOV's Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver exhibition, but it was originally located at 324 West Hastings, it hung across from another famous neon display (at “the Sally Shop”). The Regent Tailors Sign was installed in 1946 — the early beginning of the 1950s neon boom in Vancouver.

You’ll find several smaller treasures in our OpenMOV Collection related to Regent Tailors. These include technical drawings, a business card circa 1950-70, and a couple of charming items collected by Ivan Sayers (of “Art Deco Chic” fame).

One such item is a “Tailors box” (circa 1945-1959). It’s decorated with a quaint picture of a ‘tailor at work’ alongside a snappy blue slogan, “Regent Tailors Ltd. Where Smart Styles Originate”. The strangest find of all? A branded pocket knife (circa 1925-45). Emblazoned with “Regent Tailors Vancouver BC” on its plastic handle, this promotional pocket knife was probably given away with a newly tailored suit. What an odd marketing choice! “Like your suit? We’ll here’s a trusty knife for you…”

The sign itself, was designed and manufactured by the Neon Products Company of Vancouver (located at 1885 Clark Drive). Other custom creations to their credit include the whimsical Artistocrat Restaurant sign and that monolithic beacon for the BOW MAC car dealership. Established in 1928, the Neon Products Company was the earliest and most prolific manufacturer of neon signs in Western Canada.  It is now the largest company of its kind in the world, putting Vancouver squarely on the ‘neon map’ despite local city bi-laws which today strictly limit installations here at home. Ralf Kelman, an artist and self described ‘lighting activist’, collected signs from the Neon Products scrap yard. In 1977 he sold part of his collection to the Museum of Vancouver. As they say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” (or perhaps as museums would say: one man’s “I just don’t possibly have any place to store this old thing anymore” become museological points of interest).

The MOV’s neon collection is still buzzing in the electric glow of our Neon Vancouver/Ugly Vancouver exhibition (which runs through to August 12). The latest news? The Green Couch Sessions and rising indie songbird Adaline came to MOV for a live video shoot in the Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver Exhibition. The humming sound created by the signs was a perfect fit for her song “The Noise”.

 

This video features Adaline on an analogue keyboard/drum machine with Adrian Glynn on acoustic guitar. I especially love this ‘paired down’ production which shows off Adaline’s sweet vocal tone and blends seamlessly into the neon hum. Adaline’s black and silver sequined outfit picks up on the neon scene –shimmering like puddles on a cool midnight street.

Not only did we rock out in the Neon room but we got to explore the vintage clothing exhibit happening in the gallery next door. It was one of the best Monday mornings the Green Couch has ever had…” - Green Couch Sessions

Posted by: Joan Seidl on November 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Rob Gillette tube bendingRob Gillette is the man behind the bright neon glow of the Drake Hotel sign in MOV’s new exhibit Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver. Rob is a tube bender, one of the old-school artisans who makes magic with glass and rare gases. We visited Rob and his dog Blondy at his studio in Langley when he was getting some of the MOV’s vintage neon signs in working condition again. Rob was part of the team that exhibition sponsor Pattison Signs deployed to light up the signs once again.

The exhibition was an opportunity for Rob’s generation of tube benders to match skills with the old-timers who bent glass into Hootie the Owl’s kilt (in MOV’s Rexall “We Deliver” sign) and elaborate art deco script (as in MOV’s Williams Piano House sign).

Rob showed us how it was done. First, he fired up a gas flame, then he used both hands to manipulate a length of straight glass tubing in the flame until it was soft enough to bend, but not so soft that it dripped on the floor. He used his mouth and a thin hose to softly blow a current of air through the tubing, keeping the tube open even as he bent it into curves.

(For spectacular footage of a tube bender in action, check out the film Glowing in the Dark directed by Harry Killam and produced by Alan Goldman of Blueplate Productions, Vancouver.)

Neon sign tube bending stationOnce the tubing was shaped (in this case into the “ette” of Annette’s Dress Salon sign), Rob sealed the ends and prepared to load the gas. The flasks (known in the industry as ‘gas bombs’) that contain the rare gases are located in front of a wall covered with snapshots of enormous steelheads that Rob has caught on countless fishing trips. Rob carefully opened a valve and neon gas flowed into the narrow tube.

Later, Rob warned us to stand back as he jammed the throttle on the electricity and sent 220 power racing through the glass unit. Once he was assured that all was well, Rob invited us to look at it very, very closely. Squinting at the tube from two inches away, we convinced ourselves that we could actually see tiny movements inside – the electrical current exciting the neon electrons which danced as they gave off light.

The brilliance and buzz is writ large in the exhibition Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver where 22 neon signs fill the gallery with energy and light. Thanks to Gillette Rob for bringing eight of those signs back to life and light. To learn more, you can contact Rob at blondydog@yahoo.ca

Posted by: Kate Follington on October 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Neon photography by Walter Griba Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver opens at the MOV on Thursday, October 13. The  exhibition explores Vancouver's gritty, urban past in a fascinating look at the explosion of neon signs in the 1950s through 1970s and the visual purity crusade that virtually eradicated them from Vancouver streets.

Memories already starting to flow this way, and we're wondering what neon stories you have.

Did you use to have a neon sign at your store? Were you a frequenter of a club or shop with a great neon sign? Do you remember a hotel sign now long gone or foster fond memories of one still there today?

Tell us your neon story, or share with us what your favourite piece of neon signage in the city is – or was!

Comment below, engage on our Facebook, or add pictures to our Flickr Pool of neon signs that you’ve photographed.

Can't wait to hear your tales!