It’s Electric! Jerry Therio is the King of Neon
Neon lights animate our night skies with exuberance, a bit of jazz and plenty of joy. They glow on theater marquees, Las Vegas casinos, seedy bars and toney art galleries. New Orleans native Jerry Therio is passionate about the science, craft and beauty of neon.
“You know there was a time that Royal Street looked like New York’s 42nd street,” he said. “As a kid, I grew up on Frenchmen and Rampart, my family would go to the Quarter, get some beignets, get all covered in powdered sugar and slowly drive down Canal Street and Bourbon Street and look at the neon lights.”
Therio has collected, restored and designed neon since 1978. Over a 10-year period, he accumulated more than 800 pieces of vintage neon and graduated from salvaging neon as a hobby to a career in neon design. He was working as a barber/hair stylist with his own salon when Ted’s Frostop was taking down one of their signs.
“I said I had to have it. And the guy said, ‘Just stand behind me and take it.’ The top of the ‘F’ had leaves on it and I had a clay pot, so I took the five leaves and put them in the pot and -boof- I had a neon plant. And everyone came into the salon and said, ‘I want one of those. Can you make me one?’ And, well I said sure.”
Therio’s first exhibit as a neon artist was held in the lobby of Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carré in conjunction with the production of the musical “Grease.” Since then, his designs have been included in the Contemporary Arts Center’s annual group exhibits and he was one of three artists selected for a group show at Simms’ Fine Arts Gallery entitled, “Neon: Vintage & Contemporary.”
Therio’s team won a Regional Artists Project grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation and Andy Warhol Foundation in 1993, when he collaborated with jazz musicians to produce Neo Sound Performances, an innovative, interactive combination of music and visual art.
He’s also worked with art departments to create neon pieces for such films as “Ray,” “Love Song for Bobby Long,” “The Pelican Brief” and “JFK,” and has created neon for New Orleans Carnival Krewes’ floats for Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus.
Neon designs by Therio have been featured at New Orleans’ most prestigious galas including: Zoo To Do, Sweet Arts’ Ball, The Odyssey Ball, Young Audiences Ball, and Dollars For Scholars. He’s also contributed to The Big Easy Entertainment Awards and to New Orleans’ City Park’s Celebration In the Oaks.
In addition, Therio creates neon art for private, commercial and residential clients. In 2008, he created a special work for the Voodoo Music Experience.
His is a family business. His son, Wil, works for his company, New Orleans Neon, and so does his daughter, Mary.
en helping out since I was 10,” she says. “I remember he’d take me to Bourbon Street, during the day and because I was small I could get into the tight spaces. It was great.”
Therio’s also very involved with the New Orleans Neon Art Museum located at 824 Dakin St. It features designs by Therio, Lesley Wells, Wil Therio, and Jonathan Shaw.
“We took our passion for painting, neon lighting and community, and created a unique space,” says Therio. “Our venue is the perfect place to learn more about the history of neon lighting as signage and artistic expression.”
Therio says it’s funny what life throws at you and he’s glad neon entered his life.
“I love what I do,” he says. “It’s vibrant, it’s glass and it’s electric. That’s the gases out of the air, babe. That’s the air.”