The Light Circus
Art of Nevada Neon Signs

Celebrate a bygone era during this exhilarating presentation of vintage neon signs that once graced some of Nevada’s most iconic restaurants, casinos, hotels, and business establishments. From flashing incandescent bulbs to candy-colored neon tubes, the nostalgic pieces featured in The Light Circus: Art of Nevada Neon Signs have not been seen publicly since they illuminated street side locales decades ago. Presented in the Museum’s Feature Gallery, the exhibition on view October 13 through February 10, 2013.

The iconic M-shaped cowboy chaps from the long-demolished Mapes Hotel Casino have been re-electrified and will hang alongside the flickering bulbs of Reno’s Harold’s Club and Nevada Club signs, as well as those of the Sahara, a longtime casino icon of the Las Vegas stip. Other forgotten favorites that have been refurbished for the exhibition include signs from Parker’s Western Wear, the Holiday Hotel, and El Cholo, one of Nevada’s oldest Mexican restaurants located in Las Vegas. A last minute addition to the exhibition includes the sign that hung for many years above Reno’s legendary Deux Gros Nez coffee shop, which closed in 2006.

For well over a decade, Reno- collector Will Durham has worked to build this collection of vintage neon signs. For the past year, Durham and the Nevada Museum of Art spent countless hours restoring the light fixtures, controls, and electrical components of each piece, along with their painted and porcelain surfaces. For Durham, who acquired his first sign in 1996, collecting the pieces has been a labor of love. In many cases, he has gone to great lengths to save signs that would have otherwise been discarded. In some cases, salvaging the signs took years of persistence, but Durham recognized that saving them was crucial to preserving Nevada’s history—and that sharing them with the public was even more important.

Lead sponsorship provided by The Bretzlaff Foundation. Major sponsorship provided by Earl and Wanda Casazza, Casazza SLV, IGT, E. L. Cord Foundation and George and Irene Drews. Supporting sponsorship provided by E. L. Wiegand Foundation. Additional support provided by City of Reno Arts and Culture Commission, Charlotte and Dick McConnell and the Nevada Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency


Related Programs and Events


    Saturday October 13, 2012 / 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

    THE BUS TOUR IS SOLD OUT. Become a Neonist at the Members’ Premiere of The Light Circus. See a sampling of Reno’s neon culture on a short bus tour of select downtown signs. Then, relish a "Glow Martini" while enjoying a private performance by Sammy Davis, Jr. live in the gallery. Cash bar. Bus departs every 20 minutes between 6 and 7:30 pm. THIS EVENT IS FOR CURRENT MEMBERS AND INVITED GUESTS ONLY.

  • Neon Historians Peter Laufer and Sheila Swann on Neon Nevada

    Thursday October 25, 2012 / 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

    Journalist and writer Peter Laufer and photographer Sheila Swann have spent decades documenting Nevada’s splendid but quickly vanishing neon heritage. Join the Museum in welcoming Laufer and Swann for a talk exploring Nevada’s neon past and the cultural and visual effects of neon’s rich history in Nevada.

  • Meet the Collector: Will Durham on The Light Circus

    Friday October 26, 2012 / 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm

    Will Durham has amassed one of the most significant collections of vintage Nevada neon signs anywhere in the state. Celebrate Nevada Day at the Museum by learning about the artistic significance of neon in Nevada with collector Will Durham.

  • **CANCELED** Architectural Historian Michael Crow on Neon’s History in Nevada

    Friday November 16, 2012 / 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm

    Architectural Historian Michael Crow passed away unexpectedly on October 26, 2012, resulting in the cancellation of this Art Bite.

    Michael Crow has consulted and lectured widely on the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of neon. Learn about this important cultural resource in Nevada from an architectural historian’s perspective.

  • How to Read a Neon Sign: Eric Lynxwiler on The Light Circus

    Friday December 7, 2012 / 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm

    Neon historian Eric Lynxwiler visits to share his perspective on The Light Circus: Art of Nevada Neon.

  • Glowing in the Dark: A Neon Film

    Saturday December 15, 2012 / 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

    Glowing in the Dark captures the energy and vitality of neon, one of the most effective forms of visual communication developed in the twentieth century. Set against a backdrop of spectacular footage of Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, Glowing in the Dark is an illuminating exploration into the vibrant history and contemporary use of neon.

  • Reno’s Mad Men: Celebrating the Oral Histories of Old Reno in Sound, Light, and Image

    Thursday January 17, 2013 / 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

    Reno’s “mad men” era was a time of intense interest in Reno as a place, a destination city of gaming, glitz, and glamour, and it kindled a strong advertising sector around the old casinos. Listen to the voices of old Reno’s “mad men” through newly digitized oral histories, and join the conversation to share stories of your experiences of Reno’s past. Colin Robertson, Curator of Education, and Alicia Barber, Director of the University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Program, will facilitate an informal roundtable discussion. Following the program, enjoy a classic cocktail in the gallery, surrounded by the signs in The Light Circus: Art of Nevada Neon.

Art of Nevada Neon Signs