Melene on the Scene with Langley Glassblower Callahan McVay



Melene on the Scene: How long have you been in the glassblowing business?

McVay: "I’ve been in the firehouse since 2009. July of 2009 we opened the space up. I had a production studio behind my house for ten years before that, but I first started blowing glass in high school, back in the late 80s.”

Melene on the Scene: Most people don't know how to blow glass. So, how did you get into it?

McVay: “There was a lot of studios on South Whidbey at the time and still are. It was an after school job. Someone took me on to be their assistant and it took me a year or two before I started actually getting paid, which was a grand total of $2.50 an hour--my first job. But it was experience mainly, that you were gaining. I had a career in the fishing industry that kept me busy most of the summers and then I blew glass in the winters.”

Melene on the Scene: Have you always been local to Whidbey?

McVay: “I grew up in Freeland and then I stretched my wings and I moved to Clinton.” :)

Melene on the Scene: Why open an art studio on the island?

McVay: “Our environment is really conducive to glass blowing. It’s the cool marine air. Our summers don’t get that hot and our winters aren’t really that cold.”

“It’s nice here in Langley in particular. The building faces north, so I don’t get direct sunlight. Keeps the building colder. Whidbey has always been my home. My wholesale business collapsed in 2008, like a lot of people did, and this was vacant city property that I saw as an ideal—not only location—but building for blowing glass in. It’s tall ceilings, cinder block construction, north facing, that made it really ideal for a studio space and then the location in downtown was really good.”

Melene on the Scene: Is it true your studio was once an old firehouse??

McVay: “It was built in the 40s and had been the city's fire department and then got annexed to the county, which was the local fire department here in town. They have since moved to the outskirts of town, with a bigger facility and a bigger building, but left this space vacant. It's just a garage, so a lot of people wouldn't be able to operate a normal business in here without a big heat source and the city was looking for something in here that was more interactive and more educational.”

Melene on the Scene: Do you offer hands-on classes?

McVay: “We did until last spring do experiences, where it wasn’t full-on classes, you weren’t going to learn how to blow glass in 30 minutes, but you experience the process of blowing glass. We suspended that last summer and kept the furnaces shut off. We have a lot of tourist traffic in town. A lot of visitors. A lot of international visitors as well as local clientele, which being the fact that we make everything right here and I grew up here is attractive to local clientele.”

“When people have family come to the island, they have to take them places. They take them to Double Bluff. They take them to Langley, and the firehouse has become a destination shopping location. We’ve been here for twelve years almost and we have our own client base that comes specifically to see us in the space. It was our client base that really kept us afloat last summer.”

“I steered away from high-end interior artwork when I opened the place, recognizing that giftables… People want to buy local, they want to buy handmade, but it comes down to price point and we offer a wide range of stuff for under $100 to as low as $20.”

Melene on the Scene: What makes the firehouse special to both tourists and locals?

McVay: “Well it’s an old firehouse. We’re blowing glass inside an old firehouse, so the nostalgia is pretty high.”

“Local clientele, they like our products. They get them for gifts and people like them. The recipients like it so much, they think ‘Well that was easy,’ and they come back to us for more gifts. We are continuously expanding and diversifying different products, little stuff like angels. I used to make really big angels that were all elaborate with all these wings, but I was thinking, ‘What’s on grandma’s table?’... What are little things that particularly ladies like to buy?”…“I try to focus on things they actually want to get.”

Melene on the Scene: What are the most popular products inside the shop?

McVay: “One of the most popular things is the Wishing Stones. They’re a small little affordable trinket. The kids really like them. The kids collect them and stuff, And you’ve got all your holiday, seasonal, pumpkins in the Fall and your ornaments and little angels around the holiday season. Garden artwork is a really popular product, especially now with everyone doing a lot of outdoor stuff and enhancing their garden. So we’re doing quite well with garden artwork. Then you have some high-end interior artwork as well for people who are accessorizing a new home: A lot of new home owners out here… a lot of people wanting to buy local artwork.”

Melene on the Scene: Is Whidbey really a Mecca for artists?

McVay: “Yes, South Whidbey in particular.”

“There’s a lot of artisans on Whidbey Island working in multi-different media, whether it's woodworking, metal, glass, fabric, poetry, or writing… Just glass blowing studios on the south end-- there’s about ten of them… Pretty diverse community.”

Melene on the Scene: What makes Langley such a great destination spot?

McVay: “In the springtime we’re ‘whale city’. We have Gray Whales that come right up against the beach, it's one of the few cities where you can actually see Gray Whales. We have a really nice marina to be utilized for water activities. We’re a ‘Main Street Town’. We have a Main Street Association that takes care of all the landscaping and gardening in town. We have about twenty three different gardens we maintain, as well as putting on events.”

“It's a small community, it’s a city of less than 11-hundred people. And the actual entire size of the city of Langley is about the size of the Alderwood Mall. It’s like a one mile bubble. It’s a cute little seaside village and it's very friendly.”

Melene on the Scene: What are the materials you use for glass blowing?

McVay: “Silica sand is melted into clear glass nuggets in a color form that’s sold to us to make into artwork and a lot of the materials that I use are post-industrial from sheet glass factories. And then we had some glass shortages a few years back, so almost all the products became zero-waste, so we could reuse all of our waste back into products again.”

“In a lot of ways our format here is hyper local. It’s a zero waste product, mostly recycled glass that we use.”

Melene on the Scene: Besides being an old firehouse, what makes this studio so unique?

McVay: “We actually make everything right here. There’s a lot of talk about what local businesses are and what local things are, but we’re like ‘Farm to Table’, except it’s ‘Furnace to Pedestal.’ We take in the raw materials, produce the stuff and then it goes right to the pedestal space. It’s a very unique product line.”

“This is our exclusive international retail location. It’s about the only place you’ll find our products--in this store.”

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