Women in Neon

She Bends is the first and only collective of womxn bending their own neon.

Pushing the boundaries of their medium beyond the confines of commercial signage, She Bends was started out of a need for support among womxn benders. They foster an ethos of community over competition and believe it is their responsibility to move the craft forward towards sustainability & diversity.

Their traveling exhibition creates an opportunity for womxn benders to share their work with the communities around the nation and focuses on programming that educates the public on this storied medium. These shows also provide them with a platform to celebrate womxn who may not be bending their own glass but are taking swings at the glass ceiling in their respective fields.

Photos from the She Bends Opening Party at Timbuk2 on 11/16, below. All shots by @janwayneswayze.


The November San Francisco edition will be an intimate exhibit, highlighting select California She Bends artists and focusing on programming such as neon demos, film screening, & a panel talk.



Saturday, November 16, 2019

8:00 PM-10:00 PM

Timbuk2 Garage

3340 20th Street, SF


Feat. music turned by the B-Side Brujas, the opening night party at Timbuk2 will feature bending demos in the fires, refreshing cocktails made with Topo Chico, and beer by Fort Point.

This event is free & open to the public.

RSVP here

Sunday November 17 | 5-7pm | Neon demo, Q&A & Film Screening of Las Vegas Bender, 22min Directed by Danny Corey, Executive Producer: David Sadofsky, featuring LA She Bends artists Leticia Maldonado,  (open to the public, limited seating)

Saturday November 23 | 6-8pm | Neon demo & Panel discussion curated by a special guest (open to the public, limited seating)

RSVP here

Meet She Bends

Kelsey Marie Issel

SheBends Program Director


Meryl Pataky

Founder & Curator


Q: Why neon art as your medium?

Meryl: I have always been drawn to tedious processes. I never knew why, considering the fact that I'm not a very patient person and I constantly need to remind myself to slow down, but I think that's the reason/lesson right there. These processes teach me a lot about myself, tells me when I need to slow down. Glass doesn't accept anything other than zen, so it is in some way a meditation.


Kelsey: Though I’m not a bender myself, I am drawn to neon as a medium in my work because of its storied past and visual ubiquity in our everyday lives. Everybody knows what neon is, but not everyone knows it’s all made by hand, it’s an arduous process, and that it was demonized in the 60’s & 70’s in the U.S. Not everyone knows that “neon” is it’s name-sake and that there are a variety of other noble gases that can be used that all burn different colors. Because of that, there’s such a potential to educate the public on the chemistry behind it, the process of this craft, and it’s history. A main focus for She Bends is to push the medium beyond the confines of commercial signage - however that signage gives everyone an entry point to understanding what neon is. As an art form, the material of neon carries it's story with it. As artists, we’re always taking on the history of the mediums and techniques we're using in the concepts of new works. Neon brings the weight of (and therefore a potential to confront) its backstory as a traditionally male-dominated trade and use of the female body as a commodity. It also does the incredible work of drawing the viewer in, because, let’s be honest, everyone loves staring at neon.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Meryl: At a very young age, I think. I was always creating stuff with building blocks and erector-sets. I had a dream I had a robot friend and tried to make him with my erector set when I woke up and experienced my first bout of artistic frustration where the piece doesn't look the way it does in your head. When I got older, my mother kept a huge drawing pad on my desk in my room for me and I would draw accessories like jewelry and handbags. When I first entered art school, I went in for fashion design but ended up in the Sculpture department where I focused on installation and jewelry (silversmithing and small metals) for quite some time before I took a neon class.

Q: Why did you start working on She Bends?

Meryl: Ultimately, to celebrate the women in the industry that have paved the way for more women. To celebrate female, queer and diverse perspectives.  


Kelsey: I have always oriented my work in the arts around community engagement, women-oriented projects and interdisciplinary arts. When I met Meryl, I was drawn in by the pertinence of a collective of women bending their own neon. The medium itself has so much to offer in terms of the intersection of chemistry and craft, it’s historic use and who has traditionally been the craftspeople bending it. With the advent of LED tube signage (often marketed as “LED neon”) this is an important time to educate the public about Neon’s legacy and sustainability. As a master/ apprentice trade, the women of She Bends have the ability to intentionally & responsibly push the craft towards diversity.

Traditionally used as commercial signage in a male-dominated trade, She Bends is doing the really unique and important work of celebrating women benders who are pushing the medium beyond sign-making into fine art. This is an important time in history to support inclusivity in vocational trades and to reappropriate a medium, that has largely been used to push capitalism, as an art form to celebrate women makers.

Q: What does being a "bender" mean to you?

Meryl: It means that I am on some part of a journey, with my craft and therefore with myself. To aspire to master anything means to embark on a journey of self awareness. Similar to the mason's guilds back in the day - there is an inner spiritualism to this journey that only those you immerse themselves in it will know. We are always learning something about the medium and about yourself, forever.

Q: How do you hope to inspire future generations of benders?

Kelsey: Because neon is a master/apprentice trade, benders can be intentional about who they teach and therefore responsibility move the craft forward. One of the focuses of She Bends is to encourage benders to use this passing of knowledge to push the trade towards diversity and sustainability.

I also hope the the artwork itself will inspire future generations, by reclaiming neon as a medium that celebrates and gives power to the female body & craftswomen.

Q: What tools do you consider vital to being a bender?

Meryl: Well, there are the actual tools - specialty fires and set ups in order to bend glass. Then there are the tools within: patience, diligence, a sense of humor. I'm still working on all of those ;)

Q: What is your favorite piece you've made?

Meryl: Depends when you ask me, but one of them is my Key of Solomon Talisman I've made. An 8 foot sigil of Chaos Magic representing "Success in Business or Trade". The piece is titled "Invocation Through Fabrication" It discusses the idea of craft as magic, magic being any act of creating change in accordance to the will. There is symbolism tied to the Free Mason's, an all male society, in the work as well. Read more about the work and the collaborative show entitled "Mirrors" here.

Q: What's next for SheBends?

Kelsey: Next up is a museum show in Denver at the Loveland Museum. We’re always excited to see the She Bends exhibition in different kinds of venues and institutions and engage with new communities around what She Bends is doing.