Fire is a deadly mistress. The same flames that give warmth and comfort often can cause destruction and death. As a former firefighter, Rory McCallister went through the inferno and back for more than 30 years, but he has now found a more artistic way to tame the flames: the art of glassblowing.
While he has always done some type of artwork throughout his life, it wasn’t until viewing a William Morris exhibition in Tulsa two decades ago that he was inspired to try the delicate art.
“The exhibition was something else,” McCallister said. “I thought, ‘Boy, that’s pretty cool. I’ve got to learn how to do that.’ And I’m still learning, I guess.”
His work is finally being recognized as part of Istvan Gallery’s newest installation alongside fellow local artists Jesse Whittle, Josh Heilaman and Tammy Brummel.
Although he has had pieces featured in collections, this marks the first time McCallister’s work has been displayed prominently in a gallery. He said while the experience is a bit nerve-wracking, he believes his pieces are diverse enough to inspire anyone who comes to view them.
“I really enjoy the sculpting of glass, and I’m really trying to hit on a lot of the corners of it instead of just doing one little direction of it,” he said. “I’m somewhere between excited and scared, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s something to do, anyway.”
McCallister primarily works at Blue Sage Studios, located in the same building as Istvan. He said that as a former firefighter, he might have had a bit more of an edge than others starting in this field.
“I do understand heat transfer, just from fire science and my degree in fire protection. So I understand how heat moves through things,” he said. “I understand how the heat affects the glass, what it’s going to do, so I can kind of anticipate what’s going to happen next a little better. But other than that, it’s just glassblowing, man.”
Not content with crafting pieces for his own artistic glory, McCallister also gives back to the community by passing on his love and knowledge of the art form to at-risk youth at Tulsa Glassblowing School — an endeavor he said is one of the most rewarding things he has ever done.
“I know one kid, he started with us, and he’s now going to college and getting his degree in art and glassblowing,” McCallister said. “Five or six years ago, he might not have even thought about graduating high school. Anytime you can give a kid who ain’t got much direction, it’s bound to help a little bit.”