by Barb Stillman, Publisher
When I head out to deliver Antique Register newspapers, there are times when I don’t know what I’ll discover or how much fun I’ll have. And a recent Saturday trip to Tucson was one of those times. An article we’d done about the Ignite Sign Museum had intrigued me and I wanted to see in person the colorful collection of neon signs that I had read about. Wow—what a fabulous place to explore—it was beyond my expectations!
Co-owner Monica Hay Cook was there to take me on a tour. Her husband, sign maker Jude Cook, has a passion for saving signs of the past and that led to their opening Ignite in 2018. Over the years, Jude has not only created and restored signs, he has amassed an extensive collection that needed to be housed, which led to the museum that they now share with visitors.
On this Saturday, Jude was teaching a class in the bone yard so we headed outside to see what was happening. Jude has spent his lengthy career in the design and sign industry. He began his own sign business over 40 years ago and, through his Cook & Company Signmakers, started restoring historic signs about nine years ago. He has rescued many of Arizona’s landmark historic signs—some at the eleventh hour just as they were scheduled for demolition and, without Jude, would have been lost.
I was fascinated watching the Grant Stone Restoration Class participants scraping and sanding in order to uncover the sign’s original colors. Activities include sign archaeology, research, resources and trends, neon and hand lettering removal and restoration demonstrations, metal repair and painting, and load and wiring transformer instruction.
The 7,000 sq. ft sign bone yard is a clean, open area for the restoration work and finished projects are also displayed. Each sign has a history and may be remembered from its original location along Tucson streets and neighborhoods.
Other classes offered include a Neon Project where you learn the skills necessary to assemble and light up your own neon sculpture. Under the step-by-step guidance of an experienced teacher and artist, you can complete a project from salvaged neon pieces. Participants choose a neon piece and backer and will walk through the process of lighting it up and turning it into a neon wall or countertop sculpture. They will leave with their own neon project to display at home or work.
The Signs and Sips class is a relaxing one where you can discover your inner artist and paint your own Tucson Gateway Cactus. You will receive step-by-step directions with no experience needed. All the materials you need are provided—canvases, brushes and paint—so bring a friend or come solo.
The warehouse of lighted signs and sign yard are available for rent to host your next event. Ignite Sign Museum has partners that can cater a birthday party, office get together or any special occasion. They offer scavenger hunts and hands-on interactive activities for all ages to enjoy and the atmosphere will light up your event!
The gift shop in the front entrance of the Museum has many unique items for sale that include artwork from local artisans. There are games, puzzles, clothing items, artwork, souvenirs and collectors’ pieces, just to name a few. I spent some fun time checking out the merchandise and came home with something for my garden.
Bring your family and friends and come enjoy the signs, the lights and the displays or take a class. Located at 331 S. Olsen in Tucson, Ignite Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Current Pima County COVID-19 requirements are practiced, including face masks for all individuals five years and older and social distancing. To learn more, visit: ignitemuseum.com, follow on Facebook or call 520-319-0888.
And, oh yes, I’m ready to go back and visit again. Hmmm . . . wonder if my kids and grandkids are up for a trip to Tucson sometime soon.