For unique, one-of-a-kind gifts check out O’Briens Originals

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
for Tri-State Livestock News
Rob O'Brien handcrafted an elk image onto glass for a decorative tailgate on a Classic 1955 Ford pickup, to commemorate the retirement of a good friend.
Photo courtesy Rob O’Brien |

Metal, wood, glass … whatever medium someone is looking for to decorate their space, to give as a prize for a sports event, or to elicit rave reviews around the Christmas tree, a visit with Rob O’Brien will fill the bill.

If you choose something from O’Brien’s Originals for yourself or as a gift, you’ll be guaranteed it is American-made, and no one else in town will have one just like it.

O’Brien’s Originals has an interesting history. From working high iron to inspections and maintenance of railroad cars in the prairie to hand-etching orchids into crystal wineglasses with a Dremel tool, from birth in Rhinelander, Wis., to a Los Angeles childhood to a small community in Wyoming, O’Brien has a handle on major transitions.

After 14 years of stepping up the ladder to eventually land as quality manager for Progress Rail (a Caterpillar company), O’Brien endured major back surgery and then faced worse — the loss of his job.

The lifelong ironworker’s world was transformed. In spite of constant major pain from his back, O’Brien has fought his way through addiction to prescription pain medication to escape into creativity with his new business O’Brien’s Originals.

O’Brien met his wife in South Dakota when he was building water towers. The couple has now lived in Douglas, Wyo., for 15 years, and now it feels like home. “My parents have always encouraged me to do something with my art, and are very happy I’m giving it a shot,” he said.

“I always liked art, it was my escape as a kid,” O’Brien said. “I like to try anything, and right now I’m enjoying working with acid on glass.”

His first major attempt featured five elk on tempered glass for the tailgate of a customized 1950s Ford pickup. Three hundred painstaking hours perfected the retirement gift for a good friend. “You could see the hair of the elk,” he said.

Most recently, Rob has been acid etching brands onto mirrors, which he then finishes with handcrafted barnwood frames. “I do whatever people want,” O’Brien said, and his talented, sensitive hands seem capable of artistically transforming any medium.

Crystal wineglasses are delicate in those big hands. Creating orchids and leaves with a Dremel tool may have been painstaking, but O’Brien said, “I made a set for a good friend’s daughter’s birthday. Later I created a wineglass set for a ranch, with their brand etched in the glass.”


During Wyoming’s rare eclipse experience last summer, Rob designed unique souvenirs for collectors who visited the Cowboy State, as well as custom awards for a women’s rodeo event at the Moss Arena near Riverton, Wyo. Paulette Moss brainstormed the idea to hold a barrel race there right during the eclipse, calling it “Chasing The Eclipse,” with handcrafted art as part of the prize package.

“I think everyone is looking for that something different, unique, one-of-a-kind award and Rob custom designs awards for associations and producers in any sport or event,” Moss said.

The winners were elated with their awards. Moss said she “would advise any producer looking for a unique award to contact Rob — he’s affordable and easy to work with.”

“I’m so thankful to Jim and Paulette Moss from Riverton,” Rob said. “I met Jim in Deadwood (S.D.), when times were pretty tough for me. He immediately encouraged me, and he and his wife Paulette and son Olie have been really good to us, helping us develop our business and find work to do.”

Jim commissioned O’Brien to make a brand-etched mirror for auction at the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame’s 2017 Honoree Induction. The WCHF board members all ordered similar ones, with their own brands etched in acid on the glass. Those orders led O’Brien to create rustic frames.

“Rob strives for excellence — he’s a perfectionist and attention to detail is extremely important to him — so he’s his own worst critic,” Jim Moss said.

Christmas is drawing near. If your list is not filled, call O’Brien at (605) 228-0982 or email to set up an appointment for viewing his art, or watch for O’Brien’s Originals at craft fairs near you. ❖