“When I’m shaping or forming something, it’s about how it feels,” said John McCallum of his sculptures recycled from scrap metal and machine parts. “I’m trying to make something new no one else has seen, a new idea. ”
McCallum’s fresh approach is plain for all to see at his home on the corner of Carr Avenue and Humbolt Street, two blocks from the SRJC campus. McCallum pursued a welding technology certificate under Ben Whitaker, a long-time family friend. He then landed a job with the athletics department, where his father Ron worked for 30 years starting in 1967.
“We fit all the athletes for new uniforms, do all the laundry, set everything up before practice and games,” McCallum said. “Then, when everyone else’s gone home, we stay and tear everything down. I sew, I repair.” Repair work naturally includes welding and mechanics. “I’m a fix-it guy, that’s what I do. It’s a big job,” McCallum said.
With his current title of Equipment Technician II, McCallum passes his father’s career mark in the department, adding on a decade as helper to John’s 21 employed years there.
“My dad raced motorcycles when I was a kid,” McCallum recalled. “So he was always fixing something, doing something mechanical. And then Ben Whittaker was around and I watched him build the most beautiful stuff in the world – his motorcycles were just pieces of art. Even though they went fast and had a purpose, to me they were art.”
McCallum first picked up the welder’s torch around age 12 and got serious about “building things” with it by junior high.
“It’s something that I just always liked to do. I’ve still got a couple pieces in my garage,” McCallum said. “I have a dragster that I brazed together – my version of a dragster, but not actually a dragster. I have my versions of things, but you can call things anything you want.”
Some of his fans have dubbed the latest, central piece amidst his yard art “the Tinman”. McCallum takes a different tack. “I don’t like to name them,” he said. The Tinman sculpture began life as a weightlifter, but in the process it morphed and morphed again.
“When I’m building a piece, I bet I change my mind a thousand times,” he said. “As I’m cutting something, I’m starting to shape it this way, then I want to change that to another way.”
Such changes sometimes lead to personal growth. “At the same time I’m creating, I’m learning about myself, what kind of ideas I have. Where can I be different from somebody else? Because I want to be my own person.” McCallum said. “I don’t want to be compared to some guy in Sebastopol. I’m always trying to improve. I’m always trying to get better. I compete on my own terms, against myself.”
McCallum hesitates to define what he does. “I still don’t think of myself as an artist,” he said. “Maybe a welder or a creator…I don’t like to pin myself down.”
When satisfied it’s finished, however, he is willing to showcase his latest efforts on the corner of the front lawn.
“I use this as practice welding,” McCallum said of his yard art. “This is just practice for something greater.” The twinkle in his eyes betray the only hint of what mammoth project he has in mind.
“Some artists doodle,” he said with a smile, “I do this.”