The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum’s newest exhibit shows off one man’s effort to preserve the memory of neon for future generations.
Through Dec 31, the neon sign photo collection of Denton’s own Mike Cochran will be on display in the museum for what Cochran hopes will generate some fond memories and appreciation for the art.
“I started taking the photographs in 1976. I noticed a number of these signs were disappearing,” Cochran said. “The word out was neon was going away — it was a dead art.”
Cochran said he had a job back in those years that took him on the road a lot and he would seek out and photograph the signs, even managing to keep some for himself.
“At one point I used to have the Southern Hotel sign outside my bedroom in college,” he said. “It made me feel like I was in a Raymond Chandler novel.”
Cochran said he likes to record historical things that are going away, citing photo collections of old homes and other pieces of folk art.
Folk art is what he calls the neon signs as well.
“It’s folk art from a former period. I think many people will have a nostalgic experience. They may even recognize some of the signs they know,” he said. “I hope that they have some pleasant memories about neon they have seen in the past themselves.”
Cochran said he hopes people will start to appreciate them a little bit more when they see the signs out in the world.
“If you see it in a museum setting, it sort of amplifies it a little bit. Maybe someone might be compelled to save a sign and not throw it away or call me.”
In addition to the photos are some actual lit neon signs, including a large “Merry X-Mas” sign from the attic of the county courthouse. Cochran said there were a few of them but they were damaged.
Museum director Peggy Riddle said Cochran’s exhibit is the first of many she hopes to have where the items come from the collections of Denton County residents.
“What I’m interested in is bringing the community to us, to Denton County,” Riddle said. “They have stories to tell. This is one way they can tell the story and guest-curate in our building. We have the facilities; they have the collections.”
Riddle said she has always been interested in neon, even back to her time with the Dallas Historical Society when plans for a neon exhibit were unsuccessful.
“Now I am able to finally be a part of having a neon exhibit. We thought this would be something for families to come during the holiday season, so that’s why it will be up during the holidays.”
Cochran said there seems to be a small neon revival and hopes his appreciation of it will catch on with others.
“When you know how much work it is to make these things, it’s not just a computer process,” he said. “These are hand-crafted — all of them — by skilled technicians, so I respect that.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .