The Education and Engagement programs at The Neon Museum invite the public to experience the history and artistry of our unique sign collection.  We encourage engagement through a variety of channels, including public tours, Brilliant!, special exhibitions, lectures and panel discussions, family and school programs, educator resources, outreach, creative workshops, and more. The Museum’s archives and research library are available to the community and professional scholars alike (limited availability, by appointment only). 

 

Las Vegas Luminaries

 

 

Las Vegas Luminaries shines a light on the diverse communities and lesser-known individuals who helped to shape  Las Vegas's vibrant, colorful and contrasting cultural history. The mural, which spans the 101 foot length of The Neon Museum's North Gallery wall, features a diverse, dedicated and sometimes overlooked cast of icons including pioneering showgirls, heart throb headliners, champions of civil rights, dazzling designers and more. The mural also gives a nod to those keeping the longstanding craft of neon bending alive to ensure our city continues to glow. Read more below to learn about these luminaries and thier accomplishments that lit the way to a more inclusive and equitable future for the citizens of Las Vegas and beyond.


 

Theodora "Dolcina" Boyd | Trailblazing Showgirl

moulin

Theodora Boyd was among the first showgirls to work at the the Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas's first major racially desegregated casino, when it opened in May of 1955.  The finest Black dancers and entertainers from around the country were hired to play to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge's popular nightly performances, famed for lasting until dawn. Racial segregation kept Black and white patrons from mingling together at properties downtown or on the Strip, but audiences at "The Rouge" were welcome to drink, dine, dance and rub shoulders in a way not seen before in Las Vegas (or elsewhere for that matter).  Boyd's likeness was used in promotional images to advertise the many amenities of the Moulin Rouge, including a luxurious lounge by the pool. With the abrupt closing of the Moulin Rouge in October of 1955, entertainers who had uprooted their lives to move to Las Vegas were forced to find employment elsewhere. Boyd was hired by legendary swing-era bandleader Cab Calloway to dance as a "Cotton Club Beauty" in his traveling revival show, "The Cotton Club Review." The traveling show became so popular that Calloway and his orchestra (including Boyd) were invited to play a residency at the Royal Nevada in 1957.

 

Liberace | Mr. Showmanship

liberace

Liberace (1919-1987), born with the name Wladziu Valentino Liberace, rose to stardom as a pianist and singer. He performed at many Vegas properties, including the opening of the Riviera in 1955. He resided in Las Vegas for a time and eventually founded the Liberace Foundation that holds many items from his performances including crystal studded pianos, cars, and costumes.  Liberace was a famously flamboyant Vegas headliner who was recognized as the highest paid entertainer in the world at the time and whose over-the-top style earned him a place as a gay icon and the title “Mr. Showmanship.”

 

Vegas Vic | Wild West Mascot

vic

Vegas Vic is a character commissioned in the 1940s by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce as part of the city’s western-themed marketing efforts.  He was featured in various print advertisements and on neon signs. One of the neon versions of Vegas Vic can be seen on the Nevada Motel sign in The Neon Museum’s Boneyard. The larger and more well-known sign that once waved and said ‘Howdy Podner’ remains at the Pioneer Club on Fremont Street. 

 

Sammy Davis Jr. | Vegas Headliner and Civil Rights Pioneer

sammy

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) began performing at a young age with his family in the Will Mastin Trio. He rose to stardom with his dancing, singing and eventually acting. When he first began performing in Las Vegas many of the venues were segregated, so he would perform at the property but was not able to stay to gamble at the Casino or stay at the Hotel. He was noted to refusing to perform on a few occasions due to the location being segregated. His efforts, along with many other performers and local Civil Rights leaders, helped integrate Las Vegas casinos. In Vegas, he performed at the El Rancho Vegas and Flamingo. He was also a part of the famed Rat Pack, performing with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawrence, and performed many shows at the Sands. The Rat Pack was also featured in the 1960 film Oceans Eleven that was filmed at a variety of Las Vegas locations. 

 

Kenny Kerr | Drag Performer and AIDS Activist

kenny

Kenny Kerr (1952-2013) became the star of Boylesque that opened at the Silver Slipper Casino’s Gaiety Theatre on Friday, May 13, 1977 featuring Kerr as "Mr. Barbra Streisand, Mr. Marlene Dietrich, Mr. Carol Channing, and Mr. Diana Ross." After the Silver Slipper closed, he moved the act to other prominent locations such as the Stardust, the Sahara, the Frontier, the Plaza and, the Debbie Reynold’s.  Boylesque set a new standard for female impersonation productions, and became a Las Vegas institution. Initially reluctant to be openly gay, Kerr went on to become one of the Las Vegas gay community's most thoughtful and honored leaders raising both funds and awareness for AIDS research in the Vegas Valley.

Content developed with historian Dennis McBride

 

Those Fabulous Fabricators: Artists, Engineers and Installers That Made Vegas Larger Than Life

slipper

Let's face it, Vegas wouldn't be Vegas without its sensational signage, and we wouldn't have our signage without the talented folks who conceptualized and crafted many of the famous signs now on display in our Boneyard. Sign companies like YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company), AD- ART and Federal were the giants of the sign industry, responsible for shaping the Las Vegas skyline and taking the art of signage to new heights (literally). From cobbling together oversized shoes (seen here with the Sliver Slipper) to hanging twinkling atomic stars, sign designers, electricians and fabricators are equal parts artist and engineer. The combined skills of these unsung heroes is what give Vegas its trademark glow.

Chief Hotel Court

chief

The Chief Hotel Court was located on East Fremont Street, and its circa 1940 sign is among the oldest in Las Vegas. The design is possibly derived from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad’s Santa Fe Chief train, as owner Harold J. Stocker’s family had worked for the railroad company. This circa 1940 sign is an example of the romantic imagery depicting Native Americans that became common in the early 20th century, often seen in advertisements and the names of sports teams. Las Vegas tapped into this romanticized and nostalgic view of the West, marketing itself as “Still a Frontier Town,” in 1939. The sign depicts a stereotypical Plains Indian motif, not the local Paiutes. The image inadvertently served to erase the presence of the native people living in the area and substituted a stereotype. This is underscored by the fact that the nearby Paiute reservation did not yet have household electricity when the sign was first in use.

Content developed with William Bauer, Wailacki and Concow of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Professor of History, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

 

Paul Revere Williams | Histroy-Making Architect

paulrwilliams

Architect Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) was the first African-American member, and later fellow, of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Williams learned to draw upside-down and backwards in order to accommodate his early clients who were uncomfortable sitting next to a person of color. Known as the “Architect to the Stars” because of his Hollywood clientele, he also designed commercial buildings including the La Concha Motel, which now serves as The Neon Museum Visitors’ Center. His other local projects include the Guardian Angel Cathedral, Berkeley Square, and Carver Park.

 

Denise Scott Brown | Author and Architect

dsb

Denise Scott Brown (b.1931) is an educator, architect, urban planner and author. In 1972 she co-authored Learning From Las Vegas with Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour. This landmark publication represented a detailed study of Las Vegas architecture and signs, and introduced ideas like the Decorated Shed (a simple building known more for its signs and décor rather than architectural design) and the Duck (a building designed as a symbol such as a duck shaped building).

 

Betty Willis | Sign Designer

betty

Betty Willis (1923-2015) was one of the only women employed in the sign industry in Las Vegas during the 1950s. She is most well-known for designing the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas's sign as well as signs for the Moulin Rouge and the Blue Angel Motel.

 

Raul Rodriguez | Sign Designer

raul

Artist Raul Rodriguez (1944-2015) used his creativity to design over 500 parade floats including many for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. While working with Heath and Company in 1976 he designed the trademark pink signage for the Flamingo hotel that are on display throughout The Neon Museum. He was often seen working with his blue macaw Sebastian.

 

Oscar Gonzalez | Neon Bender

oscar

Oscar Gonzalez began his career sweeping the floor of a neon sign company in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Over many years he perfected the art of neon bending, a time-tested, yet rarely practiced art form of shaping glass over an open flame in order to create bright, beautiful signs that serve as both wayfinding and glowing masterpieces. He now bends glass for Hartlauer Signs in Las Vegas. Oscar crafted the neon tubing for many of the pieces on display at The Neon Museum, including the namesake tower from Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas exhibition and the restored Moulin Rouge sign. His work can be seen shining throughout the Vegas Valley.

 

About the Artists | Nanda Sharif pour and Ali Fathollahi

ali and nanda

The husband-and-wife artist team creating the mural are originally from Iran and moved to the United States in 2012 as refuges. Since then, they have participated in numerous public and private art projects in Southern Nevada, including commissioned murals for Zappos and Get Outdoors Nevada (formerly the Outside Las Vegas Foundation), which won a Mayor’s Urban Design Award. They also installed the large-scale mural designed by James Stanford on the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, located across the street from The Neon Museum. In general, both Sharif-pour and Fathollahi focus their artistic endeavors on using both traditional and non-traditional mediums to explore the viewers’ perception about psychological, sociological, cultural and political themes.

 

This project has been financed in whole or in part with funds from the Las Vegas
Historic Preservation Commission through the sale of the Las Vegas License Plate. The
contents and opinions of this funded project do not necessarily reflect the views or
policies of the city of Las Vegas.

Centennial Logo C2color

Las Vegas Luminaries

 

 

Las Vegas Luminaries shines a light on the diverse communities and lesser-known individuals who helped to shape  Las Vegas's vibrant, colorful and contrasting cultural history. The mural, which spans the 101 foot length of The Neon Museum's North Gallery wall, features a diverse, dedicated and sometimes overlooked cast of icons including pioneering showgirls, heart throb headliners, champions of civil rights, dazzling designers and more. The mural also gives a nod to those keeping the longstanding craft of neon bending alive to ensure our city continues to glow. Read more below to learn about these luminaries and thier accomplishments that lit the way to a more inclusive and equitable future for the citizens of Las Vegas and beyond.


 

Theodora "Dolcina" Boyd | Trailblazing Showgirl

moulin

Photo Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections & Archives

Theodora Boyd was among the first showgirls to work at the the Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas's first major racially desegregated casino, when it opened in May of 1955.  The finest Black dancers and entertainers from around the country were hired to play to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge's popular nightly performances, famed for lasting until dawn. Racial segregation kept Black and white patrons from mingling together at properties downtown or on the Strip, but audiences at "The Rouge" were welcome to drink, dine, dance and rub shoulders in a way not seen before in Las Vegas (or elsewhere for that matter).  Boyd's likeness was used in promotional images to advertise the many amenities of the Moulin Rouge, including a luxurious lounge by the pool. With the abrupt closing of the Moulin Rouge in October of 1955, entertainers who had uprooted their lives to move to Las Vegas were forced to find employment elsewhere. Boyd was hired by legendary swing-era bandleader Cab Calloway to dance as a "Cotton Club Beauty" in his traveling revival show, "The Cotton Club Review." The traveling show became so popular that Calloway and his orchestra (including Boyd) were invited to play a residency at the Royal Nevada in 1957.

 

Liberace | Mr. Showmanship

liberace

Photo Courtesy of Allan Warren

Liberace (1919-1987), born with the name Wladziu Valentino Liberace, rose to stardom as a pianist and singer. He performed at many Vegas properties, including the opening of the Riviera in 1955. He resided in Las Vegas for a time and eventually founded the Liberace Foundation that holds many items from his performances including crystal studded pianos, cars, and costumes.  Liberace was a famously flamboyant Vegas headliner who was recognized as the highest paid entertainer in the world at the time and whose over-the-top style earned him a place as a gay icon and the title “Mr. Showmanship.”

 

Vegas Vic | Wild West Mascot

vic

Vegas Vic is a character commissioned in the 1940s by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce as part of the city’s western-themed marketing efforts.  He was featured in various print advertisements and on neon signs. One of the neon versions of Vegas Vic can be seen on the Nevada Motel sign in The Neon Museum’s Boneyard. The larger and more well-known sign that once waved and said ‘Howdy Podner’ remains at the Pioneer Club on Fremont Street. 

 

Sammy Davis Jr. | Vegas Headliner and Civil Rights Pioneer

sammy

Photo Courtesy NBC Television | Public Domain

Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) began performing at a young age with his family in the Will Mastin Trio. He rose to stardom with his dancing, singing and eventually acting. When he first began performing in Las Vegas many of the venues were segregated, so he would perform at the property but was not able to stay to gamble at the Casino or stay at the Hotel. He was noted to refusing to perform on a few occasions due to the location being segregated. His efforts, along with many other performers and local Civil Rights leaders, helped integrate Las Vegas casinos. In Vegas, he performed at the El Rancho Vegas and Flamingo. He was also a part of the famed Rat Pack, performing with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawrence, and performed many shows at the Sands. The Rat Pack was also featured in the 1960 film Oceans Eleven that was filmed at a variety of Las Vegas locations. 

 

Kenny Kerr | Drag Performer and AIDS Activist

kenny

Photo Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections & Archives

Kenny Kerr (1952-2013) became the star of Boylesque that opened at the Silver Slipper Casino’s Gaiety Theatre on Friday, May 13, 1977 featuring Kerr as "Mr. Barbra Streisand, Mr. Marlene Dietrich, Mr. Carol Channing, and Mr. Diana Ross." After the Silver Slipper closed, he moved the act to other prominent locations such as the Stardust, the Sahara, the Frontier, the Plaza and, the Debbie Reynold’s.  Boylesque set a new standard for female impersonation productions, and became a Las Vegas institution. Initially reluctant to be openly gay, Kerr went on to become one of the Las Vegas gay community's most thoughtful and honored leaders raising both funds and awareness for AIDS research in the Vegas Valley.

Content developed with historian Dennis McBride

 

Those Fabulous Fabricators: Artists, Engineers and Installers That Made Vegas Larger Than Life

slipper

Photo Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections & Archives

Let's face it, Vegas wouldn't be Vegas without its sensational signage, and we wouldn't have our signage without the talented folks who conceptualized and crafted many of the famous signs now on display in our Boneyard. Sign companies like YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company), AD- ART and Federal were the giants of the sign industry, responsible for shaping the Las Vegas skyline and taking the art of signage to new heights (literally). From cobbling together oversized shoes (seen here with the Sliver Slipper) to hanging twinkling atomic stars, sign designers, electricians and fabricators are equal parts artist and engineer. The combined skills of these unsung heroes is what give Vegas its trademark glow.

 

Chief Hotel Court

chief

The Chief Hotel Court was located on East Fremont Street, and its circa 1940 sign is among the oldest in Las Vegas. The design is possibly derived from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad’s Santa Fe Chief train, as owner Harold J. Stocker’s family had worked for the railroad company. This circa 1940 sign is an example of the romantic imagery depicting Native Americans that became common in the early 20th century, often seen in advertisements and the names of sports teams. Las Vegas tapped into this romanticized and nostalgic view of the West, marketing itself as “Still a Frontier Town,” in 1939. The sign depicts a stereotypical Plains Indian motif, not the local Paiutes. The image inadvertently served to erase the presence of the native people living in the area and substituted a stereotype. This is underscored by the fact that the nearby Paiute reservation did not yet have household electricity when the sign was first in use.

Content developed with William Bauer, Wailacki and Concow of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Professor of History, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

 

Paul Revere Williams | Histroy-Making Architect

paulrwilliams

Photo Courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company Archive. Courtesy Ford Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Smithsonian Institution.

Architect Paul Revere Williams (1894-1980) was the first African-American member, and later fellow, of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Williams learned to draw upside-down and backwards in order to accommodate his early clients who were uncomfortable sitting next to a person of color. Known as the “Architect to the Stars” because of his Hollywood clientele, he also designed commercial buildings including the La Concha Motel, which now serves as The Neon Museum Visitors’ Center. His other local projects include the Guardian Angel Cathedral, Berkeley Square, and Carver Park.

 

Denise Scott Brown | Author and Architect

dsb

Robert Venturi/Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc

Denise Scott Brown (b.1931) is an educator, architect, urban planner and author. In 1972 she co-authored Learning From Las Vegas with Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour. This landmark publication represented a detailed study of Las Vegas architecture and signs, and introduced ideas like the Decorated Shed (a simple building known more for its signs and décor rather than architectural design) and the Duck (a building designed as a symbol such as a duck shaped building).

 

Betty Willis | Sign Designer

betty

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Scheid

Betty Willis (1923-2015) was one of the only women employed in the sign industry in Las Vegas during the 1950s. She is most well-known for designing the 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas's sign as well as signs for the Moulin Rouge and the Blue Angel Motel.

 

Raul Rodriguez | Sign Designer

raul

Photo Courtesy California State University Long Beach

Artist Raul Rodriguez (1944-2015) used his creativity to design over 500 parade floats including many for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. While working with Heath and Company in 1976 he designed the trademark pink signage for the Flamingo hotel that are on display throughout The Neon Museum. He was often seen working with his blue macaw Sebastian.

 

Oscar Gonzalez | Neon Bender

oscar

Oscar Gonzalez began his career sweeping the floor of a neon sign company in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Over many years he perfected the art of neon bending, a time-tested, yet rarely practiced art form of shaping glass over an open flame in order to create bright, beautiful signs that serve as both wayfinding and glowing masterpieces. He now bends glass for Hartlauer Signs in Las Vegas. Oscar crafted the neon tubing for many of the pieces on display at The Neon Museum, including the namesake tower from Tim Burton’s Lost Vegas exhibition and the restored Moulin Rouge sign. His work can be seen shining throughout the Vegas Valley.

 

About the Artists | Nanda Sharif pour and Ali Fathollahi

ali and nanda

The husband-and-wife artist team creating the mural are originally from Iran and moved to the United States in 2012 as refuges. Since then, they have participated in numerous public and private art projects in Southern Nevada, including commissioned murals for Zappos and Get Outdoors Nevada (formerly the Outside Las Vegas Foundation), which won a Mayor’s Urban Design Award. They also installed the large-scale mural designed by James Stanford on the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, located across the street from The Neon Museum. In general, both Sharif-pour and Fathollahi focus their artistic endeavors on using both traditional and non-traditional mediums to explore the viewers’ perception about psychological, sociological, cultural and political themes.

 

This project has been financed in whole or in part with funds from the Las Vegas
Historic Preservation Commission through the sale of the Las Vegas License Plate. The
contents and opinions of this funded project do not necessarily reflect the views or
policies of the city of Las Vegas.

Centennial Logo C2color

Resources

Education and Engagement at The Neon Museum not only includes tours, but also includes interpretive programs, drop-in family programs, artist residencies, lectures and panel discussions.

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Volunteer

Share your talents with The Neon Museum by becoming a volunteer.

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Scholars in Residence

Artists in Residence

The Neon Museum National Artist Residency (AIR) is designed to expand the interpretive potential of the collection while providing artists the opportunity to create new work in an unconventional setting.

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Junior Interpreters

Junior Interpreter tours are led by The Neon Museum's middle and high school age volunteers.

360 Virtual Tour

The 360 Virtual Tour allows visitors to move freely around in a virtual scan of our Neon Boneyard and explore sign descriptions, historical images, and content from the museum’s archival collection.

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