Friday, March 30, 2018

Chicago company makes big things that are seen but seldom noticed

Bob Doepel and Remi at Chicago Scenic Studios

     So here's the riddle:
     What business makes something big that you see all the time but seldom notice?
     These very large, custom-made products are usually unique: built once and never again. Each can cost millions of dollars only to be used briefly, sometimes just for a few hours, then thrown away.
     Hint: you don't see their work often because your attention is focused on the people in front of it.
     Give up?
     Chicago Scenic Studios creates stage sets, museum displays and the physical contours of public spaces at trade shows, conventions, parades, and at least one war.
     Their Cermak Road headquarters is an enormous, sleek industrial building, with 165,000 square feet of clean, soaring space that looks like someplace NASA would use to assemble communications satellites.
     So big, you hardly notice the 50 full-time employees.
     It was started 40 years ago by Bob Doepel, whose flat-coated retriever Remi has the run of the place.
     Born in Chicago, Doepel came out of Carnegie Mellon with a master's degree in fine arts and an interest in theater production. He started at a small theater in Lake Forest, and grew to focus more on arts than commerce.
     "So many people do trade shows, we decided we'd rather be a big fish in a smaller pond," he said. "There are not that many theatrical shops. We do a lot of environmental branding. We do a tremendous amount of museum work."
     Environmental branding?

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Beth Smith, head of the metal department at Chicago Scenic Studios, uses a water jet to cut through half-inch thick aluminum plate to make supports for a truss arch that will decorate Northwestern's April 21 Starry Night gala. 


  1. I sit on the porch each morning, have a cup of coffee, inevitably consider the relentless rush towards the Void - a reverie mitigated by the fact that I'm guaranteed to start the day with a thoughtful piece that helps keep the cognitive atrophy at bay. There is no better way to be informed, enlightened, and entertained on a daily basis than EGD. Thanks for the tonic for existential white noise. Bravo, Neil.

  2. Marvelous. A revealing portrait of what's back stage of the back stage. If we didn't have Neil, we'd have to invent him.


  3. Has that large black box been removed from the Sun-Times page yet? It has dissuaded me from clicking on the "click here" link. I hope that is just a glitch that is soon fixed, so I can continue to read the columns of Mr. S. As another big-city daily used to advertise: "Miss a day...miss a lot."

    1. Was it Thoreau who spoke of those who mistake a personal ill for an infected atmosphere? Nobody else seems to have that problem.

    2. I just checked: I can read the entire column without a problem, other than ignoring the ads. Of course, maybe the Sun-Times algorithm has been informed by Cambridge Analytica that I buy the physical paper every morning.

    3. Clicked on "Columnists" on the black monolith, which tunes it into a drop-down menu. Clicked on "Neil Steinberg" and his column is shifted right and the left side is justified. Simple solution, problem solved..


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