Richard H. Driehaus Museum
40 East Erie Street, Chicago, IL
The Driehaus Museum is housed in the Gilded Age home of banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson (1830-1914). The 25,000-square-foot mansion, built from 1879 to 1883, was one of the grandest residences of nineteenth century Chicago. Between 2003 and 2008, a meticulous restoration transformed the building into the Richard H. Driehaus Museum. Today, the Driehaus Museum preserves and interprets the home in order to promote the understanding and appreciation of historic architecture and design. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum and O’Brien Metal, Inc. collaborated to reproduce three new 7-ft-tall approximately 500-lb cast urns and pedestals as part of the Garden Entrance Restoration.
Due to the large size and intricate detail required to reproduce the original urns and bases, we were faced with complex challenges including a few highlighted below:
Wax on. To begin fabrication, our Creative Team used a rubber mixture to apply multiple coats over the original cast iron urn.
(L) Rubber application (R) Rubber mold over the original cast iron urn
Mother mold construction. Piece by piece, plaster was applied onto the dried rubber in order to create the mother mold. A mother mold is the shell that supports the flexible rubber mold helping it to retain its shape during the casting process. Clay (shown in grey) was used as dividers to split each plaster application into sections.
Shims and sections of mother mold construction
Plaster was applied, dried and repeated until every section of the urn had its own mold.
Mother mold construction by section
Breaking the mold pt. I. After each section of the plaster was applied and hardened, it was detached and for reconstruction later. The rubber mold was cut in order to remove the original cast iron urn during the pattern making process.
Taking off the rubber mold from the original urn
Mother mold reconstruction. The plaster pieces were put back together and prepared for casting the pattern in plaster.
Pattern making. After the rubber mold is placed inside the mother mold, plaster is poured inside to create the pattern.
Breaking the mold pt. II. Once the plaster pattern hardened, the rubber was peeled off to reveal a detailed surface.
Detail of plaster pattern surface after removing the rubber mold
Sand casting prep. Plaster pattern elements are ready for sand casting at the foundry.
After sand casting at the foundry, the aluminum alloy castings were brought back to our shop for extensive chasing, cleaning and welding by our Technology Team. The surface was detailed, primed and finally, faux-painted in a marble finish.
Driehaus Museum urns (L-R): pattern, cast aluminum, faux-painted in marble
Final product. The cast urns as seen in front of the Driehaus Museum in downtown Chicago.
A similar reproduction process for the urns was used in creating the pedestals.
Presently, the faux-painted urns and pedestals can be seen welcoming visitors through the museum’s East Erie garden entrance in downtown Chicago.
For more photos of the project, please visit www.pinterest.com/obrienmetal.
Read more on our efforts to expand our restoration services or the Northwestern University Charles Deering Library Restoration project.
HBRA Architects and O’Brien Metal, Inc. collaborated on a project for one of the country’s most prestigious universities. Northwestern University needed to restore the famous Charles Deering Library’s West Entrance to its striking historic condition and add period pieces that uphold the collegiate Gothic style architecture. The goal was to create bronze castings and authentic steel forgings inspired by legendary blacksmith Samuel Yellin’s notable work in the 1930’s.
The Charles Deering Library in Evanston, IL
Custom-made vitrine cases inside the Charles Deering Library
Historic lamp posts at the entrance of the Charles Deering Library
Bronze double bar handrails at the entrance of the library
Some of the hand-forged signs for the Way Finding System
All components of the project were custom fabricated—either in bronze or steel—designed especially to match the historic metalwork of Samuel Yellin. It was important to maintain the integrity, tradition and history of the Deering Library’s Gothic architecture. O’Brien Metal, Inc. worked closely with Northwestern University, HBRA Architects and WB Olson, Inc. for six consecutive months to complete the restoration project in time for the reopening of the West Entrance Lobby to the Main Library in October 2012. The finished work can be seen at 1937 Sheridan Road at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
As seen in CS Interiors: Winter Issue (January 2013). To view the digital copy, click here. This ad is on pg. 83. A company profile on O’Brien Metal, Inc. is on pg. 154.
About Charles Deering Library
The Charles Deering Library was built in emulation of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge that opened in January 1933 and designed by James Gamble Rogers. Set on higher ground overlooking Deering Meadow, it is recognized today as the university’s most prominent landmark. (Northwestern Library History) The Library’s gates, lighting fixtures, grilles, railings, doors, and ironworks were by the legendary Samuel Yellin who was America’s master iron craftsman of the twentieth century. Yellin’s work often emphasized traditional styles but he still molded those styles to the needs of the clients and to his own ideas regarding craft. (NYC Architecture)
O’Brien Metal, Inc. continues to expand and enhance its Creative capabilities and now provides Restoration services for historical objects both large and small. Within the scope of our capabilities are refinishing of interior and exterior bronze, brass, silver, nickel, and gold leaf gildings along with repairs to damaged castings and recreation of missing elements.
We will continue to invest in people, new technologies, and enhance our facilities to allow for professional restoration and specialty finishing services.
Exterior bronze gate during restoration
Exterior bronze gate after restoration
Restoration is defined as “bringing back to a former position or condition.” In restoring a historic metal object or architectural element, the most important requirement is the quality and aesthetics of the final product. We work closely with architects and designers to determine the most desirable period of an object’s life, and then design a treatment necessary to return the object’s appearance to a specific period of significance.
Original British kiosk for restoration at our shop
O’Brien Metal, Inc. offers a variety of services for the restoration and care of metal objects, all based upon our experience, expertise, and knowledge of materials and treatment techniques. The incorporation of traditional metal working methods and contemporary standards for the care and restoration of materials is our upmost goal.
Our services include:
Leading the Creative team are Ryan Greene and Dawid Czerniejewski, both highly experienced metal artisans and technicians.
O’Brien Metal, Inc. partners with some of the finest conservation experts in the United States. We are also a proud member of the following organizations: American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Institute of Conservators (AIC), American Preservation Trades (APT) and Society of Architectural Historians (SAH).
For a project at one of Chicago’s most prestigious buildings, Eric J. Smith Architect of New York City needed to replicate highly ornate cast iron balcony railings—a defining feature of the century-old residence’s unique aesthetic. Originally designed by Benjamin Marshall in 1911, the historic property is a crown jewel of the affluent Gold Coast neighborhood. Its existing railings accentuate the surrounding terra cotta surfaces and underline picturesque vistas of Lake Michigan and Lincoln Park. The new railings had to match every meticulous detail of their counterparts. To achieve this goal, Eric J. Smith partnered with O’Brien Metal and coordinated a unique design solution.
“The railings are a wonderful addition to the property – a perfect compliment to the building’s historic features. Eric & John worked well together throughout the process, bringing life to the most intricate details in the design. The results are great and it’s a pleasure to work with them.” - Tim Schwertfeger, Owner
“A true collaboration in every way. O’Brien Metal beautifully captured all of our goals for this portion of the project.” - Eric J. Smith, AIA
Peter Gluck and Partners Architects, along with their construction arm, ARCS Construction Services, partnered with O’Brien Metal to create an stainless steel railing solution for the exterior of a lakeside Chicago residence. The goal was a railing which would blend with the residence’s defining beauty—both its unique architectural design and the neighboring Lake Michigan shoreline.
Photo: LJ Porter/ Courtesy Peter Gluck and Partners
The Cascade House, designed by New York architecture firm Peter Gluck and Partners, cuts into the Lake Michigan bluff. The property is orientated for panoramic views of the Great Lake. Harmonizing the new railing with both the landscape and the house’s unique design required strong, consistent coordination between the on-site design team (ARCS, led by Jim True) and O’Brien Metal.
“John and his team exceeded our expectations despite the demanding level of detail. The consistent enthusiasm, craftsmanship, and technical knowledge they brought to the table made for a productive working relationship. I look forward to working with John again.”
— Jim True, Architect and Construction Manager, Peter Gluck and Partners/ARCS Construction Services