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March 17, 2011

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Stevan Fisher, exhibition designer

Thank you for sharing your neon story! Here's another "neon at NMAH" story:

Back in 1982 (before even my time here), the Museum staged an exhibition on the 250th anniversary of the birth of George Washington in the public hallway on the second floor. Heading west from the old Flag Hall to the heroic Horatio Greenough statue of the first president were images, objects, and panels examining the life and times of Washington. Floating overhead was a custom-made reproduction of Washington' signature in glowing white neon, eight feet wide.

After the exhibition was de-installed an the hallway returned to its use as a hallway, the (now unpowered) neon signature was mounted on the stairwell wall of the Publications Division in the basement mezzanine.

Fast-forward to 1999, and the 200th anniversary of Washington's death. A low-cost exhibition of the Museum's Washington collections—and how the Smithsonian had exhibited them over time—was proposed by Lisa Kathleen Graddy of the Political History Division. There was a large, built-in showcase near that 1841 Greenough statue, where the entry to Within These Walls is now, that was a perfect venue. Knowing the history of that glass tubing hanging in the basement offices, I proposed restoring and adding it to the exhibition. A local neon sign company was contacted to evaluate the old signature, and for a few hundred dollars, they recharged it, fine-tuned it, and hung it on an adjacent wall in all it's glowing glory.

The following year, it was demounted, and hangs in that same stairwell. Though it is again dark, it is a key landmark on the way to the Office of Education.

—Stevan Fisher

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