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Neon as Soulcraft



Close up photo of a person's hands holding a thin long piece of glass neon over fire to bend it.
Close up photo of a person's hands holding a thin long piece of glass neon over fire to bend it.

Neon as Soulcraft

July 20 – November 24, 2024

Guest Curators: Kelsey Issel and Meryl Pataky

Exhibition Design: Studio Hinrichs

Neon as Soulcraft is generously supported by The Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation, Alyce and Steve Kaplan, Babette and Steven Pinsky, Glass Alliance of Northern California, Anonymous, and Sharon Karmazin.

In-kind support provided by Gaby Scott, Michael Ambrose Design, Cadogan Tate, and She Bends.

Text Logo of Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation

Media Partners

KQED Logo SF Magazine for MCD

Museum of Craft and Design presents an exhibition curated by Kelsey Issel and Meryl Pataky of She Bends, opening summer of 2024.

She Bends: Neon as Soulcraft is an inquiry into the significance of manual trade skills and their impact on our connection to the material world. This exhibition focuses on neon bending for its embodied engagement and the diverse knowledge base demanded by this craft, spanning physics, chemistry, and spatial abilities. How does exposure to such skills among young adults nurture innovative approaches to sustainability, social responsibility, and creative problem-solving?

The exhibition showcases collaborative artworks crafted during three neon residencies held across the United States. Through a community-driven selection process, teaching artists were matched with emerging student artists in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Seattle. These residencies offer a platform for teaching artists to hone their pedagogy and for student artists to pursue their exploration of neon, answering to the scarcity of resources available for these synergistic learning environments in this trade.

To honor the learning journey of neon bending, participating artists are tasked with gathering the remnants and discarded glass pieces from their residencies. She Bends illuminates these artifacts of process into a large site specific “quilt,” revealing the hidden labor and dedication inherent in working with this material.

Neon as Soulcraft features teaching artists, Dani Kaes (Seattle, WA), Leticia Maldonado (Los Angeles, CA), and Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez (Philadelphia, PA).  Through a community-driven selection process, they were matched with student artists Melissa Jean Golberg, Mayra Zambrano, and Christen Baker respectively.

Special thanks to our Student Artist Selection Committee: She Bends curators, Kelsey Issel and Meryl Pataky, Museum of Craft and Design’s Curatorial Director, Ariel Zaccheo, Headlands Center for the Arts’ Executive Director, Mari Robles, and Studio Ahead’s Principal Designer, Homan Rajai.

She Bends is an organization dedicated to building a more equitable future for neon art through public education, curatorial projects, and artist programs that foster diversity and sustainability. The organization pushes the boundaries of the neon medium beyond the confines of commercial signage into the realm of fine art.

Above Image: Rituals of Glass and Neon Art (Installation view) at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Dec 7, 2023 – April 28, 2024. Photo: Monica Semergiu.
Videos left to right: Leticia Maldonado, Teaching Artist, Los Angeles. Dani Kaes, Teaching Artists, Seattle. Mayra Zambrano, Student Artist, Los Angeles. Work from Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendezm and Christen Baker, Philadelphia. All videos courtesy of the artists.

Christen Baker

Student Artist, Philadelphia

Christen Baker is a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores the complex relationship between attention, desire, and the economy that emerges from it. Baker earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ceramics from the Kansas City Art Institute and a Master of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art and Architecture, where she was awarded the Assistantship for Tyler Information Technology and Digital Services. Baker’s interest in exploring the intersection of technology, new media, and visual art has led her to work in a variety of mediums, including glass, neon, sculpture, photography, and 3D scanning. She has utilized these mediums to create a new visual lexicon that speaks to the subtle and often indirect ways in which attention and desire shape our perception of the world around us. Baker was a lecturer in Ceramics and Kiln-Formed Glass at Kansas City Institute and has completed residencies at Belger Arts in Kansas City, MO, and the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary. Most recently, she was awarded the Leroy Nieman Fellowship in Glass at Ox-Bow School of Art, in recognition of her work as an MFA student at Tyler. She currently lives and works in Philadelphia, PA, where she continues to explore the geographies of public spaces and objects, real and imagined.

Melissa Jean Golberg

Student Artist, Seattle/Tacoma

Melissa Jean Golberg is an interdisciplinary emerging artist, with a focus in glass and photography. Originally from Iowa, she studied Sculpture and Social Practice at the Kansas City Art Institute in pursuit of her BFA (2017-2020), transferring to the University of Washington Seattle for her BA. (2023) She is currently majoring in the Interdisciplinary Visual Arts program and minoring in Environmental Studies.

Melissa Jean is best known for using photography and glass as materials to convey freezing moments in time. As she feels connected to the earth through the memories she shares with it, she additionally explores themes of identity, belonging, environmental psychology, and the memories we leave in places. Her current body of work is exploring concepts of feminism and the objectification and commodification of women, using language and glass as materials.

Melissa Jean has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, most notably being selected to show her work at the 2024 Glass Art Society Conference in Berlin, Germany. She received a Fellowship at Pilchuck Glass School in 2023 and is the GAS student Liaison for the University of Washington Seattle. 

Dani Kaes

Teaching Artist, Seattle/Tacoma

Dani Kaes is a light artist and educator based in Seattle, WA. Starting as a traditional glassblower as part of the Hilltop Artist program in 2012, she transitioned into neon after apprenticing as a commercial neon bender in a prominent Seattle sign shop. She has continued to work in neon independently and commercially, using it as her main artistic medium, often citing its inherently temporary nature as its most valuable and intriguing feature.

Interested in the innate humor found in nihilism and the absurd, her work plays with scale, brash color choices, animation, and repeating simple shapes to explore the idea of what has the potential to become art rather than setting out to make art itself. She often describes her work as “nothing she would ever want in her house” because it is “big, bright, and always flashing”.

Leticia Maldonado

Teaching Artist, Los Angeles

Leticia Maldonado (b. 1980) was born in West Covina, California and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. She grew up surrounded by the bright, eye-catching signs atop famous casinos such as The Dunes, The Tropicana, The Flamingo, and The Stardust. For the past few years, she has been mentored by well-known neon artist Michael Flechtner. And, under his tutelage, Maldonado has swiftly emerged as a rising star. Maldonado’s neon sculpture work — primarily floral motifs delicately arranged, burning with seductive allure — ranges from small to large scale. Her work has been included in group shows throughout the U.S. and internationally. She’s been featured on Vice TV; reviewed by Artillery Magazine; was the subject of the award-winning documentary film, Las Vegas Bender; and most recently was profiled by PARQ Magazine. In 2022, Maldonado’s first-ever museum solo exhibition was at the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale, California. The artist lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez

Teaching Artist, Philadelphia

Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez (b. 1988, she/her) combines poetry, images, glass objects and neon signage to create layered installations that draw inspiration from her Puerto Rican and Persian heritage. She has been awarded residencies at Pilchuck Glass School, MASS MoCA and the Corning Museum of Glass, among others. Her work has been shown at dozens of galleries and museums in the United States and abroad, including Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, S12, Heller Gallery, Traver Gallery and the Tacoma Museum of Glass. Her sculptures are included in New Glass Review #33, #38 and #42, annual journals documenting innovative artworks in glass. Victoria is the Director of The Bead Project at UrbanGlass, a program geared towards diversifying glass and supporting femmes as they learn how to work with the material. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Tyler School of Art, from which she received her BFA. She holds an MFA in Craft/Material Studies from VCU.

Mayra Zambrano

Student Artist, Los Angeles

Mayra Zambrano was born and raised in the Inland Empire, California. She is studying for her BFA with a Studio Art Concentration from the California State University, San Bernardino. She is a Chicanx artist who works with glass, ceramics, painting, sculpture, and wood. Zambrano feels that mixing media is significant to her biculturalism. They believe that being an artist connects them with their ancestry as they have artisan lineage. Zambrano noticed an absence of representation of her culture in the arts and is motivated to be a role model for people like her. Her art reaches many audiences as it isn’t American or Mexican. Zambrano is currently focused on creating art with a call to action to advocate for the environment. Her concern for climate change and global warming has caused her great anguish and art has been the outlet for her to express her concerns. She hopes to create a change in our communities through art.

She has received the Judy Watson Fellowship and a scholarship to Pilchuck Glass School in 2023. She is a glass fabrication assistant for Katherine Gray and a Gallery Manager Intern at The Garcia Center for the Arts in San Bernardino. Zambrano has exhibited her work locally since 2023 and curated her first solo exhibition from February to March 2024.

View the press release for She Bends: Neon as Soulcraft here.


Member Preview Night for She Bends: Neon as Soulcraft

July 19 @ 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

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Three squiggly neon lights on a table

Neon Speaks: Tour of "She Bends: Neon as Soulcraft"

September 14 @ 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

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MCD Library MakeArt: Park Open House

October 19 @ 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

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