When molten glass cools too quickly it explodes. At the Firehouse Glass Gallery in Langley there’s a barrel of discarded blowpipes with leftover nubs of molten glass. A periodic pop pop calls from the barrel, like a gun going off in the glass gallery. To prevent glass creations from exploding, temperature control is key: melting is done in a 2,100-degree Fahrenheit oven and completed pieces cool gradually in a 935-degree Fahrenheit oven. This is just part of the glassblowing process guests learn about when they blow their own pieces of glass art.
Gallery owner Callahan McVay was born in Aberdeen to a family of wood carvers. By the time he was five years old, McVay was wielding chainsaws, creating his own wood carvings. At his alternative high school, he began working with stained glass, an introduction that turned him to the glassblower’s life.
McVay has studied glassblowing around the world, including apprenticing under John Legett at the Dick Marquis Studio and at the Pratt Fine Art Center in Seattle. At one time his artwork appeared in 150 galleries around the U.S.
Having made countless glass works, McVay wanted to create something different. In 2009, McVay opened his glassblowing studio and gallery in a former fire station. The building served as Langley’s firehouse from the mid-1950s until 2008. Now McVay’s glass plates hang from the walls and tables displaying glass paperweights and “wishing stones” line the walls. The studio is part retail, part performing art, and part interactive.
Guests who want a glassblowing experience spend about 30 minutes blowing a glass piece such as a bowl, paperweight, or Texas tumbler (named after the power take-off gear from McVay’s Texan grandmother’s tractor, which serves as the tumbler’s mold). Pellets of colored sand add streaks of blues, reds, and oranges to the clear base glass. Chalked symbols on the ground such as a smiley face and star serve as landmarks for where the guest stands. McVay gives instructions for manipulating the blowpipe and walks through each step, allowing the guest to blow and turn the blowpipe. In the end you’re left with a glass piece of art and a memorable experience, something money can’t buy.
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