Preview: Public Art Commission for Gardens at San Juan

09 Apr
April 9, 2015

While Great Lakes Metal Works has been in business for 25 years, a fact that we are quite proud of, the owners of the company have been making art for much longer than that.  Prior to moving to Chicago, Richard and Donna lived in San Antonio, which is where Donna and another artist friend and colleague are breaking ground on a public art commission at the Gardens of San Juan, a development of the San Antonio Housing Authority.

A major developer and apartment manager, NRP Group, has partnered with the San Antonio Housing Authority to revitalize the San Juan neighborhood. The development is a mixed-finance, mixed-income community, consisting of multi-family units, public housing, market units and commercial space. Thus, the Gardens of San Juan was established.  The first two phases have already proved the collaboration successful.  Now the team has invited Donna Zarbin-Byrne and Diana Rodriguez Gil to create an installation that will serve as a focal point for the new outdoor area in the neighborhood.

Donna says the drawings in the prospectus suggested that it could be a multi-installation project, but that her and Diana developed the artwork specifically so that participants would move throughout the space both physically and conceptually. The concept for the entire art project is based on the cyclical movement of the community throughout many generations. The history of this neighborhood is expressed through iconic imagery and symbols. Donna and Diana will work with residents to integrate family stories, children’s drawings and artwork into various elements of the project.

Diana and Donna spent many hours hatching the ideas for the various elements of the gardens and we are delighted that one of our own is a part of the team.

The Gardens at San Juan is the final component project to complete and anchor the redevelopment activities. It will be a highly visible gathering place for residents and community members because it promotes connectivity among the many amenities onsite and the surrounding community activities.

San Juan Drawings-111314_Page_1

We will provide an insider’s look behind the scenes as the project unfolds, exploring how materials are chosen, what other vendors the team brings on, and how the community will take part in the creation of the garden.

To learn more about Donna’s scope of work or to contact her directly, visit her personal website at

Preparing for Outdoor Summer Living

26 Mar
March 26, 2015

Have you been daydreaming of the patio set in summertime? Are you yearning for the balmy evenings where the sunlight lingers after dinnertime? We won’t hold it against you if you’re also secretly wishing that the patio would spruce itself up on its own. Since our team is based in Chicago, we know exactly how these patio daydreams go and we are here to help make them happen.

One of the key essentials to creating a welcoming outdoor living space is the furniture. Whether this means a table and chairs, a bench or a porch swing will all depend on your space and your preferences. We can help liven up a family heirloom as well as design and create new furniture based on existing patio pieces.


Other accessories to consider are decorative planters, outdoor sculpture and outdoor lighting, all make the outdoor living space more inviting and relaxing.





Why not take the cooking outside as well as the eating? This grill features plenty of counter space, optimal for entertaining and spending less time taking things in and out of the house.



These custom planters were designed by Anne Roberts Gardens, Inc. and fabricated by our team for the patio of The Local Chicago. The planters are uniquely built in modules that allow for disassembly and storage during winter, or a change in locations, perfect for a residence that requires privacy.


Now is the perfect time to begin preparations for enjoying the outdoor season. We offer a thorough cleaning for your wood, metal and stone patio pieces to ensure longevity as well as optimal appearance.

Let us know what your patio dreams are. To discuss an idea, call us at 773.517.6733 or email us at We look forward to collaborating with you.


Beauty for Ashes: How We Create Life-Honoring Art and Sculpture for Memorials and Funerals.

10 Mar
March 10, 2015

Throughout the years, we have been commissioned to create various sculptures in memory of a family member or friend, as well as restore existing works dedicated to a certain person or cause. Many times, a sculpture is preferred to a plaque for its encouraging aesthetics.

A Chicago couple dedicated this fountain at the Lincoln Park Zoo in memory of their son. Evanston-based artist George Suyeoka created the sculpture and our craftsmen at Great Lakes Metal Works cast it into bronze. What’s inspiring about this dedication is it shows that anything can intentionally honor someone and a memorial doesn’t have to be uninteresting or dreary.



Another example is this relief, cast by Great Lakes Metal Works, which memorializes a team of reporters that were killed during the Bosnian War in the mid 1990s.



Evanston-based artist and co-owner of Great Lakes Metal Works Donna Zarbin-Byrne created this sculpture for a synagogue in the form of a three-dimensional illuminated manuscript. The piece features the various stages of growth of the pomegranate, which is religiously significant and is also an artistic theme of the congregation.  Inscriptions are added to the leaves of the sculpture to honor a life event of a congregational member or in memory of a loved one.




This three-ton, 18-foot tall sculpture of the Christ figure, called the Divine Mercy Statue, was a gift to the Rwandan population by the Catholic Church as a dedication to healing, peace and hope. Originally, it stood next to Chicago’s Kennedy Expressway at the St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. After 40 years of Rwandan turmoil and genocide, the Church gifted the statue as a permanent symbol that God is present even in the midst of sorrow. The statue required intense restoration prior to moving, including re-fabricating damaged metal, fixing stress cracks and restoring much of the patina work.



A final example of the life-honoring work we do can be found at the Jewish Christian section of a Chicago cemetery, where this Hebrew sculpture stands. It is fabricated out of bronze and copper.


In the same way that art uplifts the spirit and brings joy to the viewer, it has a way of esteeming the memory of a loved one and honoring their life in a beautiful manner. To discuss a memorial sculpture or idea, call us at 773.517.6733 or email us at We look forward to collaborating with you.

In 2015, Go Ahead and Think BIG & small

09 Jan
January 9, 2015

While many people are doing their best to eat better and workout more,  perhaps you took on a different kind of new year’s resolution. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to take up projects long neglected and we’re just the people to help.

In 25 years of business, we’ve seen all sorts of things come through our doors. From bizarre furniture to beautiful antiques and unusual art, we’ve worked on them all. Some of the pieces that stand out are both the biggest and smallest pieces we’ve worked on. Working in very large or very small scale presents various obstacles for maintenance and craftsmanship.


Sculpture by Ralph S. Greenhow

There are particular challenges associated with working on pieces of such a large stature. Firstly, transporting these pieces to our studio can be very difficult. Heavy pieces require specialized transportation, which can be costly. In addition, large pieces are at a greater risk for both surface and structural damage while in transit. An easy solution to avoid this risk and cost is to have our team work on-site. We have ample experience in setting up on location to ensure minimal disruption and quick service. For pieces in common areas, such as hotels, resorts, or professional buildings, we can create our work schedule to accommodate your business hours.

rwanda sculpture

If a job does require that the piece be moved for maintenance, we take extra precautions to ensure that it is properly supported while being restored.

On the other end of the spectrum, working with very small pieces presents its own set of unique challenges. Working in miniature requires specialized tools, a steady hand, and a great deal of patience. For instance, the Great Lakes team fabricated a miniature replica of a client’s yacht. Working to scale and joining the plates together proved to be quite an ambitious task, but the final product was exactly what the client has envisioned.


Many of the ornate details of our work feature organic elements such as flowers, buds, and leaves. These elements are handmade out of very thin, delicate metal. Although creating these tiny details can be difficult for the fabricator, the results are stunning and add a major “wow-factor” to just about any design.


When casting small designs, special care must be taken in making the molds to ensure the details will be captured in the final product. Below is a close up of a mezuzah and the rubber mold we cast it from.



Big, small, and anywhere in between, we welcome all job sizes. Let us help you start the new year off right and tackle that project you’ve been wondering about!