Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Perry. I am from New Orleans originally and have lived in Portland for 12 years. I have a business called The Tiny Spoon, where I make neon signs. I also play upright bass in several bands, my main one being an instrumental band called Old Unconscious.
Where are you from? How long have you lived here in Portland and what drew you to the area in the first place?
New Orleans has a lot to do with who I am and how I see the world. My original plan after landscape architecture school was to stick around New Orleans and help contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I left New Orleans a year after the storm, upon realizing that the newly reelected mayor was not about to implement any of the major design contributions that the city had been gifted with. He went on to be convicted of 23 counts of corruption 10 years later, based on the misallocation of funding the city received to rebuild itself.
When I visited Portland in 2003 I saw a calm, inviting lifestyle of people who cared about their home gardens and community. I got a sense for some really amazing creative work cultivating here among musicians and artists. When I moved here, there was this mutual sense of contribution, the feeling that each person was here to bring something cool to the table. We honored and encouraged each other through this presentation of gifts.
Neon is such an interesting and unique medium. How did you first get into the art of neon sign making?
Being from an old city in the South, where people are OK with rust and ruin, I grew up with a lot of classic signs. The Italian gelato shop I worked for in high school, Angelo Brocatos, has the coolest old sign from (probably) the 50’s! Through my landscape architecture studies, I realized how important consistent landmarks are to a place and the people who associate with the place. When a sign is left for generations, it gives people a place marker in their own lives, so by nature I want to see things in the landscape that are intended to live long enough to become parts of people’s lives.
I had a studio in Old Town / Downtown Portland and I lived in North Portland. I would ride my bike down Interstate Avenue to get to my studio, and would pass all of the Portland landmark neon signs, The Alibi, The Palms… I’ve always been into lettering, so to me big neon letters were the ultimate goal for presenting lettering! When I looked into learning neon, art schools were too expensive, and I had more of an interest in learning from a trade perspective than an art school perspective.
I was fortunate enough to find a shop in Oakland who offered a workshop over two weekends. This is how I met Shawna Peterson, my teacher and mentor. She allowed me to work in her shop over the week between the two workshops, and in the end she told me that I was a natural and that I needed to stick with neon. No one had ever told me that, so I took it too heart and I immediately started collecting equipment when I got back to Portland. Shawna eventually invited me to be her apprentice, and I would return to her shop several times a year over the last 6 years.