Neon signs

You Can’t Miss It! The Loyal Order of Moose Neon Sign

Moose sign in Curators' ChoiceThis sign harkens back to an era in which both neon signs and the Loyal Order of Moose populated many American cities.  The museum first purchased and installed it for the 2002 exhibition, To Build and Sustain:  Freemasonry in American Communities.  With vibrant colors and bright lights, this object gave us a chance to illustrate twentieth-century fraternal organizations’ impact, not only on American’s social lives, but also on downtown landscapes.  And, as a staff member notes in Curators’ Choice:  Favorites from the Collection, “This sign is just plain cool!”      

Since 2002, we have learned a lot about neon signs at the museum, most notably from our experience displaying and interpreting antique signs from the collection of Dave and Lynn Waller in the exhibition, New England Neon.  Born of a marriage between advertising and science, neon signs have long enlivened American streets.  After their introduction in the mid-1920s, neon signs--inexpensive to operate, colorful and suitable for a variety of designs--trumped previously popular forms of electric signs.  Solid construction, appealing curved shapes and bold, enameled colors mark this neon Moose sign as a great example of the commercially produced neon signs made in the 1930s and 1940s. 

When new, this sign advertised Loyal Order of Moose Lodge #1369 in Robinson, Illinois.  Information fromDetail of Moose sign the Museum of Moose History suggests that lodges could purchase these signs from the Supreme Lodge Supply Department of the Moose in the 1930s.  We are also glad to know the manufacturer of this sign, the Swanson-Nunn Electric Co. of Evansville, Indiana, who inscribed their company name along the bottom of the sign.  Not all neon sign companies did, so this information is valuable to us.  As time passes, wear, weather and changing tastes have made neon signs from this era increasingly rare—we count ourselves lucky to have this one to share with visitors.

Sign, 1930–1950. Swanson-Nunn Electric Co., Evansville, Indiana.  Museum Purchase, 2000.055.

Calling All Collectors!

The National Heritage Museum gets its exhibitions from a number of sources. We produce some, like “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty,” primarily from the Museum’s collections. Others are the result of a collaboration between the Museum and another organization. For example, staff from the Massachusetts Cultural Council approached us with a great idea, eight years of fieldwork, and a list of artists who were interested in sharing their work with the public. We provided a gallery space and expertise in how to produce and display a museum exhibition. The result is the critically acclaimed show, “Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts,” now on view.

We even rent exhibitions from other organizations, which gives us access to objects we wouldn’t otherwise be able to present to our visitors. Our upcoming exhibition, “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World,” is a good example. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES), in conjunction with the Henson Legacy and the Biography Channel, has produced this rare look into Jim Henson’s life work. The show will be traveling all over the country, with a stop here in Lexington from April 3-June 27, 2010.

Neon - 4thRoom3 We have produced some of our most popular exhibitions by drawing from local collectors’ material. These enthusiasts contacted us, or we heard about them through word-of-mouth or feature articles in newspapers and magazines. Once we’ve identified a collection related to a topic in American history that we think will be of interest to our visitors, and have learned that the collector is interested in working with us, we set a date for the exhibition, usually two to four years in the future. We then begin working with the collector to select the objects and themes that help tell a compelling story in American history. Recent exhibitions based on local collections include “The Western Pursuit of the American Dream,” “Blue Monday: Doing Laundry in America,” and “New England Neon.” Visitors enjoyed these shows, which we think provided winning combinations of the museum’s mission and collectors’ passions.

If you have or know of a collection that relates to a topic in American history, we’d like to hear from you! Please call us at 781-861-4101 or use our contact form.

Gallery photo of "New England Neon," which was on view at the museum from April 12-September 14, 2003. The museum worked with a local collector to produce this popular exhibition.