University alumni provide hand painted signs for Detroit businesses

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 8:28pm

Two University of Michigan Art & Design graduates are working to bring a unique touch to sign-making in the Motor City.

Jordan Zielke and Kelly Golden graduated from Stamps School of Art & Design in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and shortly after launched the Golden Sign Company, which provides hand-painted signs for business throughout Detroit.

Golden Sign Co. has painted several prominent signs for Detroit businesses including Bobcat Bonnie’s in Corktown and Carhartt’s flagship store in Midtown, which is the company's largest project to date, standing at three stories tall and more than 200 feet long.

Zielke said he and Golden became interested in utilizing their experiences learning art at the University toward sign-making after reading Sign Painters, as well as watching the film adaptation, which explores the re-emerging hand painted sign-making industry.

The first painter examined in the book is Doc Guthrie, whose work Zielke said influenced him, along with Golden, to move to Los Angeles and train directly under him at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

“We were reading that and were like, ‘This is where we gotta go,’ ” Zielke said. “It just kind of clicked in my head that if we were going to do it, the best, fastest way to get there would be to go to this program.”

After completing a year of the two-year program, Zielke and Golden launched the Golden Sign Co. in 2014, centering their operation in the metro Detroit area.

Golden said they decided to move to Detroit because the city had earned a reputation for its emerging art scene.

“It was discovered as this place of opportunity for artists,” Golden said. “A lot of young people started moving from the suburbs and pursuing all sorts of different things — opening their own businesses or any number of things, but trying to contribute and help Detroit in any way they could.”

Zielke and Golden noted that while the increased gentrification of Detroit neighborhoods has created past tensions between current residents and newcomers, they said they  have only had positive experiences with their work in the city and said Detroiters have been welcoming.

One of Golden Sign Co.’s projects was commissioned in the city’s East English Village neighborhood, an area of Detroit that hasn’t seen the same investment and business growth as other neighborhoods like Midtown, Corktown and Downtown.

“The people here have been pretty welcoming,” Golden said. “People would sit down and watch us work and chat with us and say they were happy to see something that looked good in their neighborhood.”

Zielke said the projects Golden Sign Co. completes are sometimes large and complex but they have no current desire to hire any additional help to complete future projects.

“I have more interest in painting signs than managing people,” he said.