Inspired by a visit to the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles, art director Phil Jordan began to think about the possibility of using neon to depict a stamp subject. He decided that a Neon Celebrate! stamp, with its imagery of vivid colors, fit the bill. “Most neon is huge and stamps are so small,” said Jordan. “The mechanics would be a monumental challenge. Not everyone thought we could pull it off.”
After reviewing the work of a number of artists, Jordan chose Michael Flechtner to craft the U.S. Postal Service's first neon stamp design. Interested in neon from an early age, Flechtner honed his glass-bending skills while working in a neon sign shop after graduate school, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture. This background enabled him to create neon tubing that depicted three-dimensional objects instead of the two dimensional forms typically found in signage and other graphic neon displays.
Flechtner came up with the idea for his stamp design while watching a fireworks display. “I felt that fireworks, with all their color, light, and motion was the embodiment of a celebration,” he says. “Since neon is all about color and light, it was the perfect design for the medium.”
Flechtner began with a 4” x 6” drawing, blown up to about 34” x 44” to accommodate the 8mm and 10mm glass tubing with which he would work. He then heated the tubing to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit and bent each piece of glass to match his drawing. Electrically heating the tubes to remove any impurities, he then applied a vacuum to each tube. Some of the tubes were filled with neon gas, creating a red-orange color; others were filled with argon and a drop of mercury, creating a blue color. Other colors were produced by using phosphor coatings inside the tube.
After all the tubes were processed, Flechtner mounted them to the 34” x 44” background with a series of glass and metal tube supports and tie wires. He then installed transformers and high-voltage wiring to energize each neon circuit. Applying electrical charges to the sealed tubes of gas created the colored glow of neon lighting. Once all the neon was lit, the final work was digitally photographed.
The black background of the stamp design is reminiscent of a night sky. Like a fireworks display on a summer evening, brilliantly colored images of swirls, circles and dashes in pink, blue, orange, yellow and green seem to erupt from the ground to illuminate the darkness. Each letter of the word “Celebrate” and the exclamation point that is part of this stamp’s official title, are highlighted in bright white light.