HOUSTON – When God said let there be light, he probably wasn’t thinking about neon. We’ve seen the great glow of neon all over the state. From the historic Tower Station on the Old Route 66 in Shamrock to the hallowed halls of the Hemi Hideout in Brookshire. But how exactly is this stuff made, well that’s where Dan Dobelmann shines.
“When I got into it, it just seemed like a really cool trade. And I like working with my hands. You can be creative with it. There’s a hundred different ways you can go with the signs,” said Dobelmann. “I mean you can put neon on almost anything,” he said. From fine art fountains, sports squads, to even the best show on TV about Texas you’ll find signs dedicated to just about anything you can imagine at his True Colors Neon shop in Houston. Speaking about his particular artistry, “It’s a nice media for artwork and signs, I think. It’s the best kind of advertising, in my opinion.”
Far be it for neon maker to marvel has his masterworks, but he might be right. Who doesn’t love a wild neon, that moves you and socks it to you! Neon, as described by Dan, “kind of sets a mood, it’s a good ambiance.” Dan started working with neon at nineteen but his fascination with electricity came started with an element of surprise. “I always kind of liked electricity and electric stuff. I had stuck a paperclip into a wall socket and it knocked me across the room. And ever since then, I’ve just been fascinated by anything electric.” Yes, Dan Dobelmann is probably the reason we now have outlet covers now but that doesn’t prevent him from having accidents in the shop every now and then.
The process of creating these works of art starts with the gentle bending of glass to form whatever shape, letter, or creation you’re trying to come up with. A gentle touch is exactly what is needed to do this work. When working with that much glass you know accidents are bound to happen. With that being said, patience is definitely a virtue in Dan’s line of work. In his own words, “Sometimes a piece of glass will break right when you’re almost done. And you’ll hear the guy in the back, “I love my job.” You know that somebody is having an issue when you hear that.”
Once the glass has gotten it’s shape without turning into shards, it’s time to put in the gas. And when you start talking argon, noble, and inert I start feeling like I’m under a sweat lamp. Doesn’t that bring you back to high school chemistry? So not only do you have to be an artist in the sense that you have to create this stuff, you kind of have to be a chemist and you have to be an electrician. “Chemistry is a big part of this, and yes, a lot of electricians too,” said Dan. That’s a complicated profession.
But I can tell you firsthand, once you see that sign light up, it really does light your fire. Dan, not having any of his own neons at his house, is sure to have his day brightened each day when he walks into work. Seeing his incredible creations is well worth flipping the switch on the Texas Bucket List.
“Just kind of the nostalgia of it, you can look back through history and then so many cool things have been done with neon and neon signs that to try keep that going is, I think, important,” said Dan.