07 Nov 2014

A childhood memory inspired Jim Winters to reinvent the rotosphere. A chance meeting at an art festival gave this rotosphere a home at Miami Ad School in Wynwood.

An interview with Jim Winters, neon artist and founder of Bulldog Neon.

Pippa Seichrist, co-founder of Miami Ad School, interviews the artist.

PS: What made you want to build a rotosphere?

JW: A gentleman named Warren Milks, an outstanding engineer, former Marine and neon-sign guy, built his original version of the rotosphere in 1960. His designs were larger than mine and more advertising based than artwork based. Two were sent to Miami from his Louisiana sign shop. I remember seeing the one on 49th street in Hialeah when I was a kid and loved it. His designs didn't hold up well because he used steel, which rusts and old-school, heavy, neon transformers. I use aluminum and solid state power supplies, neither of which are affected by weather. Technology played a big part in my rebirth of the rotosphere!

PS: Warren Milks passed away years ago. How did you learn how to build a rotosphere?

JW: I had a general idea of how I wanted to construct my roto due to many years of creating and engineering neon signs. To be successful in this business you need to be versed in many arts, i.e. design, manufacturing, welding, coating, low and high voltage electrical, neon bending and installation. I wanted to make smaller rotos, from 19' in diameter down to 7', to allow them to be used as interior, hanging art as well as exterior displays. I also wanted to add, with the advances in modern technology, speed controls and dimming!

PS: Your rotospheres are art!

Neon is art! Everything about these rotospheres are hand made...the aluminum hemispheres are hand spun, the internal structural pieces are hand cut, and the neon is hand bent! Plus due to the fact that it's always moving and changing, it never gets boring!

PS: Can you explain how Miami Ad School got so lucky as to be home to one of your rotospheres?

JW: When I initially displayed my first roto at the Wynwood Life Arts Festival, a young lady from the Miami Ad School left her card with a message stating that she couldn't live without having her very own rotosphere. Coincidentally, I had done the original neon sign for the Ad School 20 years prior. When I found out about the school moving to the new Wynwood location off of I95, I knew that we had to install the very first one there!

PS: I had no idea that our rotosphere was the first for you to install and display.

Getting the roto approved through the city was the challenge. A three dimensional, rotating, high and low voltage, neon rooftop artpiece was going to be difficult to explain on paper, so I had to take my iPad with a video of the rotosphere and show all the plans to the reviewers. After many hours of explanation, and the city of Miami's desire to keep South Florida on the cutting edge of the world's art scene, it was approved!The colors were purposefully chosen to accent the pink building. I hope that this roto install will be first of many. No two will be the same. The creative possibilities are endless. Different shapes like rods, lollipops, and diamonds, or even words, like the seven deadly sins, or peoples names, or the different religions of the world are a few of the ideas I'm working on.

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