In Hungary, they told young John Duzs he'd be a statistician.
"The communists gave me an aptitude test and said I do good with numbers," recalls the artistic Bainbridge signmaker, who then turns to Linda Fisher and asks, "Do I do good with numbers?"
Fisher snickers. She and Duzs, 76, have shared the narrow studio in his Bainbridge home for six years. As his assistant, Fisher helps the former refugee lovingly craft the pine and redwood signs that have earned his Novelty Studios a robust reputation among civic leaders, business owners, developers and others with messages worthy of elegant expression.
In 1956, Duzs fled his homeland with his soon-to-be wife Eva, $10 and a single attaché case. ("You can't escape with luggage," he explains.) Arriving in Cleveland without a word of English, he quickly got his first job as an artist, his bureaucratically denied dream. His moonlighting as a signmaker turned into a 32-year career so far.
Beautifully carved, painted, lettered and finished, Duzs' 13,000 markers welcome visitors to most of the East Side suburbs, as well as Gamekeeper's Taverne, Gilmour Academy, Alpine Valley, Fowler's Mill and a host of retailers, nature centers and the homes of residents who can afford the low-four-figure price tag.
With customer input, Duzs shoots photos of the setting, then sketches his ideas with felt markers. His creative strategy is simple: "They ask me to do it one way, they go away and I do something entirely different. And they love it."
Customers tend to try to put too much into a sign. "You need a center of focus," he explains. And a font that can be read from a passing vehicle. Duzs shudders at one particularly intricate typestyle. "I refuse to do Olde English even for a church," he says. "And they have all eternity to read it."