Sign of the Times: George Zienowicz Shows Us the Way

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For over 25 years, George Zienowicz has been producing signs throughout the Central Jersey area. You may have seen the unassuming man with the big smile at a number of functions throughout the Trenton art community, but George's Z Signs shop has fabricated beautiful works that stretch further than the almost eight square miles of this great city. As he told Dan Aubrey back in 2014, his resume includes "D&R Greenway Land Trust, Hopewell Borough, Pennington Borough, City of Bordentown, Delaware River Basin Commission, City of Trenton, Trenton Downtown Association, College of New Jersey, the town of Princeton." We're not talking about a sign here or there; these jobs include things like the 15 "Welcome to Princeton" signs you see in that area. The signs outside (and within) the New Jersey Realtors building on Broad Street across from Trenton Social. Signs for Brothers Pizza in Mercerville. Hell, when I got to the Z Signs shop on Canal Street, he was working on a massive (in size) sign project for the recently-renamed Thomas Edison State University, which he calls "a challenge."

In talking with George, you start to understand why he's so revered in the sign-making industry; he's got a great blend of creativity and craftsmanship, a man who's been around, studied the old school way of getting things done, and has moved his operation graciously into the 21st century. One minute he's showing me design books from as far back as the early 1900s, the next he's showcasing some of the 3-D models he's mocked up on his office computer. There's a deep sense of history and a stupendous amount of skill to this live of work, especially when you consider the fact that you can go to George with a minuscule idea for a sign and he can turn it into something much grander, but I had to ask: Does George Zienowicz consider himself an artist?

"Definitely," he starts out. "Kind of an artist and an artisan." He mentions especially how, in projects where Z Signs works on signs for an entire town, that the result is him really making "the flavor of the entire town," which you could compare to the mural projects of a Will Kasso and Leon Rainbow, even if it is more "commercial art" as Zienowicz calls it.

Personally, I'd known George as being one of the familiar faces at art openings or different events being held at Artworks, and had to know what draws him to this community in the city; his answer is as simple as anyone's. "It's home. These are people I know and hang with and have worked with for a long time." While he says he wasn't an artist growing up, he did find work as a graphic artist for The Trentonian back in the day, although he does mention that he's done some illustrating and even pinstriping automobiles and motorcycle tanks. His connections with the local scene is deeper than him hanging with his "extended family" as he calls it; George says that a number of local artists actually come to him for help from time to time, "be it some kind of printing or pattern-making," he says; he even mentions that they would cast the patterns for AbOmInOg's older Art All Night - Trenton iron pours, as well as working with Leon Rainbow on some of the cut-outs he's done for past pieces.

"Trenton's been good to me," George reflects.

With his stacked resume of projects throughout the area, I had to ask George what his favorite job was, and he didn't hesitate to bring up the sign for the Capital City Farm.

Image via Planet Trenton / Jay Watson

Image via Planet Trenton / Jay Watson

"First, it wasn't your ordinary sign. Second, it was the enormity of it. A lot of times, signs go on buildings and even when they're fabricated, unless they're bronze, they're dead in five, ten years. There's few legacy-leaving things. This thing's going to be here for years. What can we expect, 100, 150 years?" Surprisingly, for this piece, George says it wasn't as hard to build as some of his other, more difficult signs. "That's what was fun about it, too; it was like building a giant erector set."

With his legacy firmly in place, you'll have an opportunity to check out Z Signs and the magic made within that building this Saturday, November 12, during Art All Day Trenton 2016. Z Signs is one of the participating artist stops on the tour, and will not only be open for you to tour the building, but will feature the works of mixed media artist Antoinette Marchfelder and photographer CJ Harker, who works in tintypes. Art All Day Trenton 2016 runs from 12 p.m until 5 p.m.; check out this post for more details. For now, here's a peek at what it looks like inside of the Z Signs shop.