We’re in Megan Stelljes’ Lakewood, Washington studio, watching her carefully manipulate a glass tube over an open flame. She heats it just enough to bend, and quickly turns to her template and checks her work. She is slowly forming letters that say “thanks”.
Most of Stelljes’ career has been focused on blown glass, but more recently she has tackled the complicated skillset of neon bending. Stelljes loves that neon has a lowbrow history in pubs, liquor stores, and strip clubs. She contrasts that history with cute imagery that often involves fruit and lighthearted word play.
Her subject matter serves a few purposes. Aside from the response to neon’s rich history of street signage, Stelljes wants her work to act as a friendly segue to conversations about sexuality and education. She believes that sexual repression leads to many problems including sexual harassment and health issues and wants to see a world where more people are able to advocate for themselves and see sexuality as a normal part of life. By creating imagery that is cheeky and approachable, she hopes to make this topic easier to talk about.
When she isn’t working in glass, Stelljes is teaching at Arts Connect, under the Hilltop program. Arts Connect is a year-round program for girls on probation and diversion. During each session the girls choose an organization to support and learn to make art that will be sold to benefit that organization, while also learning important life skills and making social connections.