During her senior year at Northwestern, Ronni met Paul Stewart, a former oil field welder who was creating metal artwork as a hobby and who had just purchased a computer-controlled plasma cutter. She had taken sculpture and was familiar with designing on a computer, and soon she was helping him with projects. As demand for their creations grew, the two decided to join forces and establish a full-time business that specializes in customized home and office décor, landscaping art, wedding gifts and signage.
Was art an obvious choice as a major?
Yes and no. I’d enjoyed art ever since grade school, but I didn’t know I had a talent for it or that it was something I would ever pursue. In high school I took extra art courses that I excelled in, including two graphic design classes, and by my senior year of high school I was designing things for my church and for family members, like my brother’s graduation invitation. When I took Introduction to Studio at Northwestern, that’s when I found I had an interest in art—especially in graphic design and designing on the computer.
So you spent a lot of time in Northwestern’s Korver Visual Arts Center.
One of the things I’ve missed most since graduating is all the resources within that building—not just the professors but also the equipment and the space and the different people working around me in all the different mediums. The Korver Center is really good for those who want to collaborate because it has nice, big rooms where there’s this huge working space for multiple people. And yet there are also classrooms with nice little spaces where I could shut the door, work by myself and focus on what I was doing.
Speaking of professors, how did the art faculty help you grow as an artist?
They all have real-world experience and come from different backgrounds. I appreciated how they would guide and teach us while still allowing us to explore our own ideas in our work. They always had projects of their own going on, which was great for helping us see how people make art part of their lives after they’re out of college. One of my professors had a set time, every day, when he would paint. They were often in the building or in their offices working on their own art when they weren’t teaching, so if I had a question, they were usually available.
What was your favorite art class?
Graphic Design II because we were finally taking all these concepts, ideas and different techniques that we were learning and actually implementing them for real projects. People who had a design need would come and pitch it to us, and we’d have to create something that not only was good design but that also met the client’s needs. I also learned a lot through an internship with RISE Ministries. It taught me what an actual working environment is like, where my strengths and weaknesses are, and what I wanted to look for after graduation.
Was helping to start Iron Ingenuity a good career move?
Definitely! I get to use every part of my major in art and minor in public relations every day. I worked with Paul to come up with a name, design our logo, print business cards and promote our business. We’re convinced of the value of social media, so I helped create our website and gave us a presence on Facebook. The best thing is getting to see the joy and excitement on our customers’ faces when they see their final product for the first time. We always want that end result to have the “wow” factor.