ALLESON BUCHANAN: SHE BENDSSydney Cummings
HOW IT STARTED
Alleson’s love for neon began when she was an undergrad at Cascade College in Portland. She saw artist Joseph Kosuth’s “Five Words in Orange Neon” at the Portland Art Museum. Alleson was immediately “drawn to the glow.”
“There was a palpable magnetism and power that this utterly simple piece commanded in an otherwise empty room. But I had no idea how it was made or where I could learn to make it,” she said. “It stayed on my mind, and I quietly went on appreciating neon for well over a decade.”
In 2015 Alleson graduated from Seattle University, receiving her MFA in Arts Leadership. She then started an art consulting business when, what felt out of nowhere, a neon school opened in Seattle. She attended their first class four years ago – and has been a bender, captivated by the glow, ever since.
“I love fire. It too holds power in its glow,” Alleson said. “I’ve always been completely comfortable with the flame—so the first time I put a tube in the fire I felt it in my soul. A magical portal opened in my mind, and I saw my 90-year-old self still bending. Now, I actually crave the feeling when the glass slumps, molten in my hands.”
“But neon’s not all badassery and mystical fire portals. Sometimes it’s just crying, sliced, burned, and bandaged on all fingers at 1am to meet a deadline. I love making it look magical and beautiful, but the reality is I am seriously committed to mastering this highly technical skill. There are so many ways a piece can go sideways, but the more I invest, the more my bending improves.”
Alleson’s neon journey has been touched by many, the love and support she has felt in this industry has been, in her words, amazing. One friend she mentioned that invested in her neon fervor from afar, early on, was Dino Rigoni.
“I had just joined the Neon Beginner’s page on Facebook and asked if anyone had spare equipment. Moments after I asked this question, I got a friend request from a stranger. And you know, sometimes that can be a little sketchy online. We had no shared friends, just the neon page connection. I just had a gut feeling and accepted his request. I sent him a message and asked politely, “What’s your deal?” And we just hit it off immediately. He’s a long-time neon makin’ Chicago dude and I was a weird neon Pacific Northwesterner, so we had lots to talk about.”
In their conversation online, Dino mentioned he had a set of burners that belonged to his friend Laura and he wasn’t sure what do with them. Dino and Laura used to be glass benders for a shop outside of Chicago.
“He [Dino] told me that she [Laura] was great, and an absolute hoot. He had a rule that no paper was allowed in the glass bin. So to get at him, Laura would drop paper in the bin so his hot glass would set it on fire. I felt really connected to her mischievous spirit. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer about a year prior to our conversation. He told me, ‘I think she’d really love to know her fires live on through another great lady bender.’”
“I was just floored,” Alleson continued, “I was so honored and to this day absolutely eternally grateful. We’ve since visited each other’s studios. Thankfully he’s a night owl too, so we exchange a lot of late-night neon tips. Well, that’s to say Dino gives me pointers not really the other way around. I think of Laura often and secretly toss some paper in my glass bin to honor her and to annoy Dino.”
One thing Abitech loves about the neon community is the respect that artists have for one another, and the support that they offer to each other. Neon seems to have a way of connecting people in ways other things can’t.
Alleson expresses her love for Abitech because it is such a great source for all the things she needs for making neon.
“My two must-have Abitech products are the Tecnolux noble gas canisters and the add your own GTO Ventex transformers,” Alleson said. “The pressurized canisters last forever. And without them my art couldn’t glow. Sometimes I just need a few more inches of GTO than is standard on an electronic transformer. The Ventex transformers have saved me in a pinch so many times!”
She Bends is a great community and resource for neon artists like Alleson.
“She Bends has brought a breath of fresh air to the neon world,” she said. “It’s given a unifying power to women and femme identifying people in the neon community. It’s been an amazing place for me to connect to other incredible women. I’ve found professional neon support and lifelong friendships.”
HER WORK & PASSION
Alleson considers her artistic style to be “sometimes amusing, often magical and infused with body positivity.”
“I want my neon to make people feel something – silly, shocked, or make them think,” she said. “I’m a dash of immature and spoonful of mischievous and I hope the world gets that when they see my work.”
Starting any business is challenging, especially neon bending. Benders need special tools, space and uninterrupted time—Alleson’s hope for future neon makers is “access to the craft.”
“I offer access to my personal studio because I know first-hand how difficult it can be to find a place to practice glass bending,” she said. “It’s one of the main reasons I opened my studio and one of the many ways I remain committed to the wider neon community. I’m passionate about neon and I want it to continue to thrive.”
See the gallery below to check out Alleson’s favorite piece to date, called “Big Lilith energy.”
“My recent work explores the mystical and seeks to empower all femme-identifying people. I’m inspired by the story of Lilith and her powerful independence. She’s a true feminist icon and is my inspiration for “Big Lilith energy.” It’s an honor to literally put her name in lights. Lilith laughed in the face of patriarchy, which is why it felt natural to break a few neon norms and flock the neon tubes. By using a traditional woodworking process, Lilith is now literally dripping in velvet.”
“Big Lilith energy” uses clear glass argon hg, magenta glass argon hg, purple velvet flocking, and is mounted on brick.
When Alleson’s not in the shop bending, she says she likes to camp with her husband and dogs in her Vanagon, looking for agates on the beach, or co-hosting her podcast, Neon Nonsense with Danielle James of Hex Neon. Give her podcast a listen and her IG a follow at @RadiantNeon.
In the Seattle area? Take a stroll during the monthly “Belltown Art Walk” and swing by her studio, Radiant Neon. The next one is Dec. 10 from 6:00-9:00 PM. Get details here: https://www.belltownartwalk.com/