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Northwest Culture 1

Todd Sanders, the Neon Rebel


For those following economic trends in Northwest Arkansas, it’s no surprise that Todd Sanders, an Austin, TX, artist, caught the attention of local American art collectors. The team at OZ Art NWA championed his projects, and today, the most extensive public collection of his works is on display around Downtown Bentonville.

Photo by Jennie Kim, used with permission from Roadhouse Relics.

Who is Todd Sanders?

Todd Sanders began his art journey as a child. In college, he studied advertising and art design and began sign painting to pay tuition. But a lost route led him to Austin, and he knew after seeing a giant neon insect at a pest control store that his future was illuminated before him, making art like that!

Known for his keen eye for design and ability to manifest what he visualizes, neon as a medium made an easy transition from vintage sign painting.

He opened his first neon art studio in 1995 after making his first vintage neon sign two years before. Since then, he’s grown multiple businesses in Austin, Texas, landing on The New York Times list of must-do stops in Austin.

Sanders has partnered with celebrities like Willie Nelson, Shepard Fairey, Norah Jones, Johnny Depp, ZZ Top and Kings of Leon for commissioned work. A partnership with his friends Junk Gypsies landed a commission piece, “Fireflies in a Mason Jar,” for Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s wedding. Several magazines recognize him as a fine artist, including Esquire, Fortune, Texas Monthly, Southern Living, Southwest Airlines’ Spirit and Signs of the Times.

What art style is Todd Sanders known for?

Sanders’s most notable works follow a vintage style of new design resembling a vintage roadhouse look. He pays homage to the original 1930s and 1940s artists who made Route 66 famous with their roadside design. His creative touch brings a vintage design to new art.

Andy Warhol, Dan Flavin, and Robert Rauschenberg inspire his work. His first one-person art show in a gallery in Nantucket with his pieces sharing walls with Warhol was a humbling experience of “arrival.”

Sanders creates from his heart. While he often partners with commissioners or other public artists, he’s perfectly content pulling the design from his heart, knowing that he will keep it if it doesn’t sell. “It’s like I’m saying ‘Todd was here’ when a piece finds its public home.”

I like to make art that your kids will fight over when you die!”

As an artist, he loves that his works have really two views. With neon, you have the painted background and mechanics of the lights you can see during the day, but as dusk turns to night, the pieces of art come alive, and the actual effect of the work of art illuminates.

Often, neon signs were road markers or attention grabbers before passersby knew they were experiences. With Route 66 serving as the first highway truly connecting sections of the country, many came to love the visual effect that drew attention and marked memories. Sanders and other artists like him are recreating the same experiences with public art, murals, lighted designs and melded treasures.

And, lucky for Arkansans, we always get to see his master craft on display!

Where can I see Todd Sanders’ art in Northwest Arkansas?

A walking tour around downtown Bentonville will lead you to most of the pieces and many other public art displays. The Oz NWA Art trail will pass many of these pieces and a few extras. I started the path to a few driving spots. Next, park and walk around the square and downtown area, then return to your car to finish the tour.

  • Sailor Beware (Mermaid) | 607 SE Fifth Street | above entrance of Blu Fresh Fish Marketplace
  • Beer Mug | 410 SW A Street | on the patio wall at Pedaler’s Pub
  • Hwy 71 | 409 SW A Street | Farmer’s Exchange building, across from Pedaler’s Pub

Drive to the square, find a parking spot and walk toward your first destination.

  • Modern | 106 SE A Street | In the trash alley behind Table Mesa, up high on the brick wall
  • Good Luck Horseshoe | 108 SE A Street | in the art alley next to Tavola Trattoria, pass the building, then turn back and look up.

Cross through the alley toward Main Street and continue to the next piece.

  • Big Tex | 113 W Central | Walk down the alley next to 3 Dog Bakery toward The Ledger. It’s up high on a black brick wall facing East.
  • Top Hat | 121 W Central Avenue | on the outside facade of Scotch and Soda
  • 3 Stilettos (Legs) | 121 W Central Avenue | inside Scotch and Soda, only open for happy hour and dinner
  • Massey Hotel | 123 W Central Avenue | Sanders used his skills to turn the historical landmark into a work of art

  • Slingin Rhythm | 115 NW Second Street | on the North wall above the patio at Bentonville Dive
  • Mason Jar | 205 N Main Street | on the facade of the parking garage, facing the Walmart Neighborhood Market entrance, behind Onyx
  • Car & Travel Trailer | 200 N Main Street | around the corner from Overstreet Jewelry and across from the Walmart alley, above the Native American mural
  • Compton Gardens | 203 NE Third Street | directly across from Lawrence Plaza and Wright’s BBQ

  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang | 203 NW A Street | on the back wall of the Old Benton County Jail, across from 21 C Hotel

Grab a treat and return to your car to finish your tour by driving to other destinations.

Photo by Jennie Kim, used with permission from Roadhouse Relics

Big on Bentonville Tour

I first learned about Todd Sanders’s art on the Big on Bentonville tour. Once they pointed out his unique style, I recognized it around many corners. The Big on Bentonville tour is fun for a date night, with out-of-town guests or with friends.

Once you buy your tickets, the tour guide will contact you about your meeting spot. Our guides were knowledgeable about the history of downtown Bentonville and had insider knowledge about real estate, celebrity sightings, new businesses, and where to find the best food! They even helped point out some of the Fixer to Fabulous renovated homes and local spots used for movies.

Learn More about Todd Sanders’ Art
Roadhouse Relics | Instagram | FB – Roadhouse Relics | FB – Todd Sanders Art

Learn more about Downtown Bentonville
Downtown Bentonville Inc. | Visit Bentonville | OZ Art NWA | Public Art

Interviews with Todd

Images were taken in person by the author, original work by Todd Sanders, Roadhouse Relics, unless otherwise noted.

Meet the

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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