In addition to the Glass Lab, UW–Madison is one of only a handful of schools in the U.S. that has a full service facility for creating neon art.
Tom Zickuhr is a lecturer in the Art Department who teaches a popular neon course titled, “Neon: Light as Sculpture,” every semester. It regularly fills up and has a waitlist of students from the Art Department and beyond.
Zickuhr notes that it is very unusual for artists to have access to this specialized equipment. He tells his students: “Take advantage of your time in this room — you may never have this opportunity again.” Neon is a “brutally difficult,” highly technical art, says Zickuhr. He works very hard to build students’ technical, or “hand” skills, while also nurturing their creativity.
It used to be, says Zickuhr, that neon was considered primarily a commercial medium for creating signage, but that is starting to change. “It’s being wiped away by people doing very creative work and pushing the boundaries with neon,” he says. “That’s what I push for and what I strive for in my class,” he adds. “This is not just (about making) a Budweiser sign.”