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From Antarctica to local craftsman

BY MICHELE DANNO | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

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Snowstorms in late March may seem harsh for some Iowa City dwellers. But for Ryan Prochaska, this weather is mild compared with the conditions in Antarctica, where he lived and worked for six months.

Prochaska, a 35-year-old native of Iowa City, runs a carpentry business in his house on Dewey Street.

Starting at the UI as a philosophy and art-history major, he realized those paths didn’t fulfill his dreams of craftsmanship and dropped out after three years.

“I’d always done a lot of woodworking and carpentry,” Prochaska said.

His career started when he opened his own shop in Coralville. But after a few years as a shop owner, Prochaska said he got bored, deciding to sell his business, house, and belongings to travel.

After traveling in the United States for a few months, he chose Antarctica for his next destination.
Prochaska was hired by Raytheon Polar Services — the contractors who provide assistance to the National Science Foundation — and assigned to work at the U.S. research station on McMurdo Sound. The only way to get to Antarctica is by being part of scientific research or assisting with it, he said.

Prochaska flew down in Antarctica’s summer, during which the continent is still considered the windiest, driest, coldest continent on the planet.

“No one can actually live there,” he said. “When you’re down there, you’re there to work.”

Even when Prochaska found free time, there was nothing to do. He lived in something comparable to a dorm room with three other men.

Although he said he would do the experience again, there was a lot of deprivation.

“Mail took a few months,” Prochaska said. “The computers took a half hour to log on. Phones can take up to eight hours to get a call through. Once you’re down there, you’re pretty much stuck.”
When he finished his duties in Antarctica Prochaska traveled to New Zealand before coming back to Iowa City to continue his career as a carpenter — but this time in his basement.

Dewey Street Workshop, Prochaska’s humble business, is only about 11 by 13 feet.

Though his shop may not look like special, people who know Prochaska say the work he creates in it is.

His girlfriend, Dawn Frary, said he is unique and truly cares about his work.

“He really wants people to understand that carpentry isn’t all about getting things done quickly,” she said.

Frary noted his pieces are not only carefully crafted but also sustainable.

“I try to be environmentally friendly when I work,” Prochaska said. “I usually use scrap wood that I find in Dumpsters.”

He avoids using power tools, he said, because he feels closer to his work when using his hands.

“To me, he’s the difference between a craftsmen and a carpenter,” said Pete Bachman, one of Prochaska’s clients. “He’s a real high-quality person.”

Though he enjoyed his exotic travels, Prochaska said he is glad to be back home.

“It’s nice to come back to Iowa City,” he said. “Iowa City has that effect on people; it tends to bring people back to it.”


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