Get a Sneak Peek of the Ongoing $ 15M Cultural Center Restoration, Restoring Tiffany Design to Its Original Glory | Chicago News

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A team is working to restore the historic rooms of the Chicago Cultural Center to their original glory. (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

Some sort of archaeological dig is underway at the Chicago Cultural Center, where a $ 15 million restoration project is underway to uncover the original beauty of the building’s Grand Army memorial and rotunda.

On Thursday, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced that work began in February on the interiors of the rooms, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the 1890s. The rooms were created as a gathering place for veterans of civil war and their families, and as a memorial to the war dead. Subsequent renovations obscured many of Tiffany’s colorful decorative items.

The big reveal is still almost a year away, but the city has shared teaser images of the work in progress. The preview shows the meticulous separation of layers of paint to expose the original plaster surfaces, which had been finished in silver foil and shaded in a translucent color. The teams are also in the process of dismantling GAR’s superb 62,000-piece Tiffany dome. The glass will undergo off-site restoration and will be reinstalled. (The GAR Dome is one of the Cultural Centre’s two Tiffany projects. Restoration of the first, in the centre’s Preston Bradley Hall, was completed in 2008.)

“This project reminds me of the buried treasure hunt. Instead of being buried underground, it’s a treasure trove of Tiffany coloring buried under layers of paint – and just waiting to be revealed in all its 1890s glory, ”said Tim Samuelson, historian cultural emeritus of the city of Chicago. “This is no ordinary preservation project. It is a company beyond belief, bringing together the absolute best talents in historic restoration to bring to life one of the great lost treasures of the decorative arts.

A restoration team meticulously removes layers of paint to reveal the colorful details underneath.  (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)A restoration team meticulously removes layers of paint to reveal the colorful details underneath. (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

Chicago-based Harboe Architects were asked to oversee the project and assembled the same team that recently completed the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park. The Monuments Commission has unanimously reviewed and approved the project and will provide additional oversight, DCASE said in a statement.

Other aspects of the GAR restoration include recreating long lost fixtures using old photographs and architectural drawings for reference. All marble will be cleaned and restored to its original polish, and the mahogany doors to the bedrooms will also be illuminated. Dark tinted exterior glass installed in the 1970s will be replaced with protective clear filtered glass, allowing the room to be seen from streets and sidewalks, as well as from Millennium Park, according to DCASE.

The restoration, funded by an anonymous donor, is expected to be completed in early 2022. While the rooms are returning to their historic appearance, the project also incorporates modern electric and Wi-Fi upgrades.

The GAR rooms will remain closed to the public while the works are in progress, but the rest of the Cultural Center is expected to reopen on June 2, with new exhibits and equipment.

Below, more photos of DCASE work in progress:

The Memorial of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Rotunda were created as a gathering place for Union civil war veterans and to honor the war dead.  (Courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)The Memorial of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Rotunda were created as a gathering place for Union civil war veterans and to honor the war dead. (Courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)

The GAR dome is one of two designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Cultural Center.  (Courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)The GAR dome is one of two designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the Cultural Center. (Courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)

The 62,000 pieces of glass in the dome have been removed for restoration and will be reinstalled.  (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)The 62,000 pieces of glass in the dome have been removed for restoration and will be reinstalled. (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

A close-up of the restoration work, removing layers of white paint to reveal hidden details.  (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)A close-up of the restoration work, removing layers of white paint to reveal hidden details. (Courtesy of Harboe Architects)

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]






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