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Cabot Neon Signs

Summer Brooks talks to Rob Sprackman of Cabot Neon Signs about some of the company’s most iconic work to date – and why neon jobs are still keeping the family busy in 2019

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Four pieces of neon by Cabot Neon were combined with infinity mirroring, in collaboration with artist Sam Smyth

Generations of neon

Although Cabot Neon Signs was founded in 2011, the company’s roots in neon and signage stretch back even further than that. Rob Sprackman, who heads the company, wanted to keep the art of neon sign-making alive when he opened the business. His uncle, Pete Sprackman, has been bending neon since the 1980s while his father, John Sprackman, is his business partner in a part-time/advisory role. His grandfather also worked in sign-making, so it is easy to see why he has such a connection to the trade.

I felt there was still a market for neon and enough people who appreciated the skill and authenticity that goes in to making it

“I saw an opportunity to concentrate on the niche market of neon,” Sprackman comments. “Pete, our glass blower, has an incredible talent for bending glass to a very high standard and I didn’t want this skill to be lost.”

Not put off by the rising popularity of LED products, Sprackman decided that offering neon signs would be enough to keep the family busy. “LED signage was really starting to kick in around this time, but I felt there was still a market for neon and enough people who appreciated the skill and authenticity that goes in to making it.

A family affair

Sprackman was in awe of his uncle’s skill and part of the motivation for continuing with the neon business. “Pete takes real pride in his work, the neatness of the bending is some of the best I’ve seen, and he’s well regarded in the neon industry,” he says.

Sprackman says there is still a lot of love for neon

“A large proportion of our work requires us to work on site all over the UK, particularly in London,” Sprackman adds. “We also use a small group of trusted trade sign suppliers to manufacture our other non-neon signage work. We also use sub-contract sign-fitters who are used to handling neon glass to help out on the fitting side of work.”

Restoring old neon signs can be really interesting and challenging

The challenge of the work is just as rewarding as the work itself, as Cabot Neon is often approached with restoration projects that require great attention to detail. “Restoring old neon signs can be really interesting and challenging,” says Sprackman. “The general public seem to have a real passion for neon, two of our projects in particular have been well received, both in Bristol.”

The projects he refers to saw two of Bristol’s unofficial landmarks restored to all their glowing glory. The Mauretania sign, the city’s first moving neon sign, graced the cover of the last edition of SignLink and lit up Bristol’s Park Street once more. “[It] was a huge and complex project but we have received plenty of messages from people who are so happy to see it up and running again,” grins Sprackman.

The sign had become something of an icon for those who fondly remember seeing the sign lit up throughout their childhoods. Projects like these are challenging because of logistics, but they also put immense pressure on the company to restore it to the highest quality, while remaining true to its history.

Cabot Neon reproduced the Bristol Hippodrome theatre's sign in neon, after the current LED system required too much repair work

Nowadays when a piece of neon needs replacing or repairing, often companies might look to move to an LED version to save on associated costs. Cabot Neon was approached in 2014 with a project that would see the LED system replaced with traditional neon, as the building’s proprietors were not satisfied with the impact of LED. The firm was tasked with changing the LED letting on the Bristol Hippodrome, back to traditional neon. “In my opinion, theatre and neon go hand-in-hand,” Sprackman says.

Neon is staying

But it’s not just commercial work that Cabot Neon is flooded with. “We like to work with artists who specialise in neon,” comments Sprackman. “Quite often they have a concept for some really interesting neon design, and we can then help them with the design and build and the logistics of neon.” The company recently advised artist Sam Smyth on a neon project, for which the firm produced four pieces of neon glass. Paired with a series of mirrors and displayed in a box, the neon appears infinite.

'I'm Staying' travelling neon for artist Shaun C. Badham

“We produced the ‘I’m Staying’ travelling neon artwork for artist Shaun C. Badham. This artwork was installed at a number of iconic Bristol landmarks as it has travelled its way around the city of Bristol,” Sprackman says. The motivation of the project was to explore the varying discourse generated from the neon piece and from each of the locations it was displayed in. The neon sign is currently on display Leadenhall Market, London.

Handmade 12mm diameter green neon fitted to brick wall in an office space

Sprackman is keen to illustrate the process for Cabot Neon’s clients and potential customers through social media updates, inviting the public to witness the hard work and long nights that go into its neon projects. “We try through social media to showcase the work and skill that goes in to making neon and often produce videos of the process of making neon, as I feel it’s important to show that this is a bespoke and handmade product.”

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