UMW Glass Student Showcases Neon Design and Runs His Own Business

Montana Western senior, Ben Kenealey, is a glass major and recently installed his custom neon glass installation at the Emerick Art Studio on the Montana Western campus.

Glass artist Ben Kenealey installing “Amalgamated Neon Rescue” in the Emerick Art Studio display window (left). The finished display at night (right).

Kenealey started bending glass tubing for neon signage in 2007 for Lights in the Night Neon, a neon business in Sacramento, CA. He quickly became the primary glass bender and in 2012 bought the business. In 2019, Ben moved his business, along with his wife, Shannon, and their four children, to Dillon to pursue a B.A. in Glass at the University of Montana Western. Kenealey is currently a senior focusing on scientific glassblowing.

Kenealey’s business specializes in making custom neon signage for commercial and personal use. Since moving to Dillon, Kenealey has made signs for local businesses in Dillon and Bozeman, but also continues to create custom neon for his clientele in California. Kenealey makes multiple trips each year to California to deliver his custom orders. You can follow the “Lights in the Night Neon” Facebook page to see some of Kenealey’s work and find information on how to order a custom neon sign.

Not everything goes as planned while working with neon, and this was part of the inspiration behind Kenealey’s latest installation at the Emerick Art Studio. Titled “Amalgamated Neon Rescue” the installation features bits and pieces of neon that Kenealey was unable to use in his commercial work.

Kenealey’s work currently on display in the Emerick Studio window gallery is a “hodge-podge” of pieces of neon signage and shapes that illustrate the artist’s history of working in neon.

“What you see here in the gallery window of the Emerick Art Studio is a hodge-podge mixture of neon that has been removed, incorrectly made, abandoned, and the remains of pieces which I could not bring myself to throw away. My grandfather had a reputation of saving anything that he thought may one day be useful because he “may need it one day.” I have a stroke of this within me, as I cannot throw away perfectly good neon. In this case, the pieces of neon that make up this amalgamation are important remnants of the stories that make up my history and work with neon. Each piece has its own story to tell,” Kenealey said.

The Emerick Art Studio at the University of Montana Western at sunset.

Associate Professor Ruth King, who directs the glass program at Montana Western, said “The variety of words and graphic elements in Ben’s neon composition celebrates our American cultural landscape of architectural neon signage.”

Going forward, Kenealey plans to pursue a scientific glassblowing internship at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. The spring internship will allow Kenealey to learn from scientific glassblowers on glass projects in support of nuclear energy research.

A close up view of a section of Ben Kenealey’s neon art installation at the University of Montana Western.

Montana Western’s Department of Fine Arts offers three different degrees in glass: a Bachelor of Arts, an Associate of Arts and a Certificate. Along with general education courses, the glass focus of each degree may include blowing and sculpting molten glass from a furnace, torchworking, scientific glassblowing, lapidary/cold construction, kiln casting and neon. The Mary Baker Emerick Art Studio at the corner of Poindexter and South Atlantic Street houses the fully-equipped glass facilities of Montana Western.

For more information about Experience One and the University of Montana Western, or to schedule a visit, go to www.umwestern.edu or call 877-683-7331.

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