FORT SMITH (KFSM) — As the sun sets over the second largest city in Arkansas, neon signs can be seen glowing from downtown storefronts.
Andy Kaelin’s shop, No.7 Tattoo, is one of them.
Kaelin said he wanted the outside of his business to look clean and classic just like the inside. He also said selecting a neon sign for his storefront was a, "no brainer".
“I think it's eye catching and it kind of has that feel — the older, kind of traditional style,” Kaelin explained.
Kaelin’s sign, along with most neon signs along Garrison Avenue, were handmade by Derrick Maxey, 42, who owns Maxey Signs and Neon on North Ninth Street.
Maxey has also played a role in constructing an impressive, larger-than-life, red arrow in Bentonville. That arrow towers about 70 feet above the downtown square.
Maxey opened his doors in 2003. The Fort Smith native's skills are self- taught and observed through apprenticeships, which includes glass bending to pumping gases into small tubes.
Also, Maxey tells 5NEWS he has gotten more calls for neon signs recently, “Now days, there's been a lot more neon calls. It’s trending again.”
Neon was first introduced in the U.S. in the 1920s. Since, the 3D art form has phased in and out of popularity throughout decades. During past years, it’s popularity tapered when plastics were introduced for the use of signs after World War II. Another surge in neon sign sales happened during the 80s when neon clothing became a fashion statement, and when shows including Miami Vice were popular on television.
LED lights became more prominent in the 90s and 2000s because of their energy efficient properties.
“Not everyone is into it, but if you think about the businesses that are downtown right now with a neon sign, they've been here for awhile and they're well established,” said Maxey.
Maxey said he plans to remain in Fort Smith.
In the future, he wants to partner with local universities and teach students the critical skills needed for making neon signs since there are just a few institutions where people learn how.
Maxey added that he wants to branch out beyond making signs and focus on the artistic side of neon. Previously, he has had conversations with organizers of The Unexpected Project and wants to incorporate his neon pieces with the massive murals already on display throughout our area.
To learn more about Maxey and his business, click here.