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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern’s ceramic technician won’t throw in the towel just yet

Micah Sandy / The Daily Northwestern
Part-time ARTica employee Rachel “Ranch” Ward said they work overtime to fulfill the studio’s needs.

The first time Rachel “Ranch” Ward used a pottery wheel, it was supposed to be a punishment.

When Ward’s high school art teacher caught them talking during a wheel-throwing demonstration, he demanded they form a cylinder as the whole class watched — a mighty task for someone who had never touched a pottery wheel before.

But within minutes, Ward boasted a clay cylinder. 

“I was always a jokester, always talking, but I was silent the whole time,” Ward said. “This just made so much sense to me.”

The 25-year-old southern California native is now the ceramic technician at ARTica Studios, a creative space in the basement of Northwestern’s Norris University Center. Ward said because of ARTica’s limited funding, they work part-time for roughly $20,000 to $24,000 a year ― which includes instructing aspiring potters, firing pottery and cleaning the studio. 

To pay the rest of their bills, Ward also teaches ceramics at another studio, sells their art and coaches water polo. 

Ward’s ability to juggle their workload is no accident. Raised by two “left-brained thinkers” ― a bookkeeper and a bank portfolio manager ― Ward said they had to fight for their parents’ approval to attend art school.

“That pressure allowed me to have the work ethic that I do,” Ward said. “I won’t stop until it’s done.”

In 2021, a year after graduating the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, they started part-time at ARTica. Despite working less than four hours a day, Ward transformed the studio ― tossing out trash, installing new shelves and even painting a mural. 

“I had a dream for this place,” they said. “I was willing to do anything to make ARTica bigger, badder, stronger, more successful.”

But, ARTica still needs increased funding, Ward said. The ceramics studio lacks a functional sink, proper chemical waste disposal and sufficient ventilation, according to Ward. They are unable to obtain more paid hours, so Ward works two to four hours overtime most weeks.

“There’s nothing more I want to do than to be at ARTica sometimes,” they said. “The only thing I want to do is step into the basement and be with all of my students. But I cannot sustain my life with what they pay me, and it’s extremely depressing because I know that one day, I might have to leave this place because of that.”

Ward hopes to gain more funding and paid hours in the future to relieve stress on the ARTica staff, which consists of Ward and two other full-time employees. This comes amid calls for labor reform across Northwestern workers, from maintenance staff to graduate students.

Despite working five gigs, Ward never fails to lend a hand, said former Weinberg freshman Nathan Bornstein, one of Ward’s former students.

“I’ve reached out to Ranch multiple times outside of class to get advice,” Bornstein said. “They’re always willing to take time out of their schedule to work with me.” 

Although their path forward may not be easy, ARTica students appreciate Ward’s commitment to the ceramic community.

“Ranch is just so much energy, so much skill, and chaos,” ARTica student and postdoctoral researcher Priscilla Ambrosi said. “Absolute chaos.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @llilysshen

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