Morse Museum to Display Piece of its Historic Neon Sign Collection

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A piece of local history will shine on Park Avenue when the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art presents Neon Night on Friday, April 12, at 6 p.m. The one-night event will feature an illuminated display of the fully restored Orange Court Motor Lodge sign, marking its first public showing in more than 30 years.

Orange Court Motor Lodge opened in 1924 as the Orange Court Hotel. The name change accompanied a change in ownership in the 1960’s with its iconic neon sign installed soon after. When the business closed in 1990, the 1,000-pound sign became part of an extensive collection of local business signage started by Morse Museum Founding Director, Hugh F. McKean.

“He realized (the signs) were part of our history and part of the landscape of the area and really wanted to save them,” said current Morse Museum Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Perry Thalheimer. The collection spans approximately 78 signs – not all are neon, but all have been kept in storage as a matter of conservation and security. Neon Night is the Museum’s first attempt to exhibit a part of the collection.

The popularity of cost-effective LED lighting led to fewer artists learning neon techniques, which makes preserving any remaining pieces a difficult endeavor. “Conservation is an ongoing process,” said Morse Museum Hugh F. McKean Curator Kayli Rideout. “It is difficult to restore these signs because it’s really not an art form that people still practice, but we are committed to keeping these signs and conserving them in the same way that we do the other objects in our collection.”

The size and delicate state of many signs make tours of the storage facility impossible. While signage that does not include lighting is relatively manageable, neon pieces like the Merita Bread and Ronnie’s Restaurant signs must be stored in sections and pose unique transportation challenges. Such is the case with the Orange Court Motor Lodge sign.

“We had to split the sign in two to build a transport because it’s so tall,” said Museum Director of Facilities and Security Tom Mobley. The 14-foot-tall piece will be mounted on a cart and positioned outside the museum for display. “We will deliver it here, put it back together, put the neon back in, and that’s where it will stay for the evening.”

“At one point we were considering renting a carrier and a helicopter to transport it,” said Perry Thalheimer. “It’s very impractical to move these things from one space to another given obstacles like street lights and the tree canopy.”

A special Color and Light tour will accompany the sign exhibit to offer perspective on Morse Museum pieces and their relationship to neon art. “The Museum pieces are based on color and light and people’s natural attraction to that,” said Perry Thalheimer. “Hugh McKean was a painter and spent his early years studying with Louis Comfort Tiffany. He understood that link and realized that neon was a valid artform.”

Neon Night is a free event and will run from 6-9 p.m. Color & Light tours will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and the lighting of the Orange Court Motor Lodge sign will occur at 7 p.m. A lighting delay date of Friday, April 19, has been scheduled.

The Morse Museum is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933). Current exhibits include American Arts & Crafts Movement and Fascinating Clutter: American Taste during the Reign of Victoria. American art pottery, late 19th- and early 20th-century American paintings, and historic design items are among the Museum’s holdings. For more information, log onto

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