New life for old brass casting trade
Marketingman Bob Koning and his associate, industrial designer Rodny Heemskerk, stumbled across a retired brass foundry in 2016, actually by accident. The two were running a thriving interior design and manufacturing business in Westpoort at the time, and were urgently looking for extra shed space. Their neighbour and good friend Floris van Konijnenburg could offer them that - and more. Koning: 'The space also contained all the moulds and machines of an old brass foundry that used to make chandeliers. Floris suggested that the three of them continue that business. The technical and traditional aspects were right up our alley and we thought it would be a good challenge to preserve this Dutch heritage craft.
It turned out to be Brink & Van Keulen. Although the makers of the name only began to make chandeliers of brass in Haarlem in 1946, the designs of the hundreds of moulds date from the seventeenth century. The historical value is therefore considerable. Casts can be found all over the world. Everyone knows at least one, often without knowing it', says Bob. 'Until about 2009 the company produced or restored chandeliers for many Dutch churches and government buildings.' Then, pointing to a photo from the brass foundry's new Instagram account: 'Even at the inauguration of Willem-Alexander in the Nieuwe Kerk they hang; just look, up there!' According to Bob, now an expert on brass casting, the old Dutch chandeliers are very distinctive. The deeply bending s-shape of the arms with the dolphin-shaped volutes (ed.) are the trademark, but you can also immediately recognize them by the sphere.
As soon as the young entrepreneurs have put Brink & Van Keulen on the map online and offline, the first orders came in. After years of absence, Brink & Van Keulen returned to church fairs and soon we received our first project,' says Bob. It concerned new chandeliers for a church in Ouderkerk aan den IJssel. It was exciting because we were inexperienced. But with the help of a number of former employees it all worked out well. Two years later came the biggest job ever: four massive brass chandeliers for the Martinikerk in Groningen, each with a span and height of two and a half metres - the largest possible format. An absolute highlight', as Bob calls it. The original chandeliers disappeared during the war and now a donor has donated money to make new ones. Based on a picture we built up the chandeliers from scratch. Except for one type of arm, we still had the moulds for all the parts.
Hanging the chandeliers in place is an entire process. Bob and consort have the original casting furnace, but its capacity is limited and safety leaves something to be desired. That's why we work with an industrial casting partner', he explains. When the parts have been cast, according to the original process with wooden moulds and molds of Brussels earth, they have burrs on them. The 'raw' parts go into the drum machine for twenty-four hours with gravel, so that they are smooth enough for the polishing process. Finally, the last steps follow: painting, assembling and, if necessary, installing the wiring. The electric light is special: 'The LED lamps approximate the colour of candlelight. Specially developed for the empire, but also available from us'.
Bob is pleased that, in addition to churches and government institutions, more and more private individuals are finding their way to Brink & Van Keulen. Many architects come to us wanting replicas of the old Dutch chandeliers for their clients. For a historic hunting lodge in England or France, or just for a super sleek interior. In the latter case, the chandelier or wall chandelier is often seen as a design element. It also happens that someone who already has an antique chandelier wants to have one or more identical ones. Such a series is almost impossible to find at an antique dealer, while we reproduce them quite easily'. If desired, the design can even be adapted. If, for instance, one wants slightly longer arms, that is possible. But we do stick to the original shape', Bob assures us. And because the chandeliers are all made up of separate elements, we can also reproduce the missing parts.
The 'reanimation' of the brass foundry made the trio more than just a manufacturer of new chandeliers and parts. We are also archivists, traders, appraisers and restorers," Bob says, laughing. To illustrate this, he shows a tiled room that looks a bit like a butcher's shop. The metal racks are full of hooks with old chandeliers in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are in need of repair. By polishing and varnishing them they get their shine back', he explains. Other examples belong to people who want us to restore the value of their heirloom or to help them sell it. And others need to be fitted with electricity. Brink & Van Keulen also has the chandeliers from the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft in its safekeeping. We are going to refurbish them soon'.
Expanding the collection
In 2018 Brink & Van Keulen was approached with the honourable request to take over all seventeenth-century moulds from the Belgian company Schroeter-Aerts. 'A descendant from that family was no longer able to continue the brass foundry. We took over the materials because otherwise they would have been destroyed', explains Bob. The chandeliers of Schroeter-Aerts, mostly used in Belgium and France, show little resemblance to the old Dutch chandelier style. Lots of frills and a completely different technique for assembling components', summarises Bob. Unlike Brink & Van Keulen, we do have a book on Schroeter-Aerts which lists all the models. It's nice to be the only one in Europe to have such a large collection.
Now that the men have fully mastered the craft, they are putting new dots on the horizon. We are looking at how we can combine the old craft with the newest techniques. Bob is referring to, among other things, a computer-controlled milling machine with which 3D models can be made.
Article published in: www.herenhuis.nl
Text: Jasper Gramsma
Photography: Otto Kalkhoven