Anderson, SC native Ryan Calloway was born with a creative bug. Through elementary school, middle school, and high school he was constantly drawing.
When the time came to choose a college career, Ryan didn’t have a career path in mind. He had a buddy who was in welding at Greenville Tech, and that’s where his story began.
When Ryan finished vocational school at Greenville Tech with a degree in Industrial Technology, he and his wife, Amy, began a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. They landed in places like San Fransisco and New Orleans.
It was in New Orleans where he started started his welding business. This is where he spent several years of doing welding work for small businesses. He primarily did architectural and structural iron work, such as gates and railing. Over time he began working with local artists and incorporating his creative side.
While in New Orleans Ryan and his wife had their first son. Nine months later, Hurricane Katrina made her way on shore, and they were forced to evacuate to Greenville. This push was only the beginning of their transition back to the Upstate.
At first, they went back and cleaned up as much as you could clean up 5 feet of water. “It felt like a mass population apocalypse scenario, there were piles of gutted houses on the street,” Ryan said. It took about a year for them to deal with the house after they got back. Ryan did the clean up and repair by himself for the most part with the help of a few friends before selling it to a development.
Initially, the Calloways chose Asheville as their new home. However, they decided to come back to Greenville in 2006.
“I had developed a good list of work in New Orleans, that was the hard part of pulling out of there. I was starting fresh coming back to Greenville. But it was great, I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t enjoying my work in New Orleans,” Ryan told me. “Renovation work wasn’t great. I had to deal with lead based paint and a lot of old, heavy piece. Coming back allowed me to come into the market with a clean slate. I had to make as many connections as I could. I started connecting with interior designers. They push the high end work. Luckily I had a little bit of cushion. The place I was working allowed me to create a lot of samples. I had a lot fun doing that with traditional blacksmithing and welding. That was a huge turning point for my business.”
Ryan was now able to focus on his passion that was there from the beginning: art.
The first step was to find a place to operate.
“I got really lucky and I had a friend who had an old barn I could work out of,” he said. “I worked there for about a year after landing in Greenville. I didn’t have to pay rent, and I could make all the noise I needed. I went through 3000 pounds of coal in that space. I was able to make a little bit of noise on the property. I wanted to be ‘the blacksmith’ in town.
Over time Ryan started getting jobs from a local interior designer. They took him in to meet their team in 2007, and 12 years later and he’s still connected to people because of them. Ryan has been able to connect with the majority of well known and established design community.
“I’ve learned that contacts are big. I was doing a lot of networking. Calling up people out of the phonebook to set up appointments so I could show them my portfolio.” He smirked and said with a laugh, “The Katrina thing probably didn’t hurt.”
At an art show Ryan met the owner of the building that he operates out of today, in the Village of West Greenville. He moved in to this space in ’08 for a great deal, which allowed him to save up for the thousands of dollars worth of tools he would need.
It took about a year to get the building up full to code. Fortunately the landlord was also patrons of the arts, creating an ideal situation for both of them. Both are community people and want to continue championing the artist community.
He continued, “I’ve gotten lucky a lot. This building is perfect for what I do, I was willing to stay here no matter what. It’s a great place to meet clients and host events. It brings up a nostalgic feeling for guests.
Today, Ryan is the owner and operator of Creative Ironworks and the Artistry Gallery which consults and then designs custom ironwork. It shares a space with the Artistry Gallery, where local artists can display their work. When you take a walk through his shop and the gallery, you’ll see so many unique and unforgettable pieces of artwork and furniture.
Creative Ironworks is Ryan Calloway,. While the Artistry Gallery is a community effort. In about ten years Ryan’s goal is occupy the gallery consistently and selling more of his metal artwork. “It’s got a lot of good energy, it’s not only for me, it’s a collective thing,” he said.
He continues, “I found that from my networking with other blacksmiths, ideally I will get to the point where I own a space, do less commission work, and sell right out of my gallery. That would be awesome. This would get us back to on the travel, allow me to work shows on my own timeframe. My wife and I can get back on the road again.”
We got to talking about work/life balance and Ryan’s words struck me. They are so incredibly honest and powerful.
“Doing production and welding work has helped me a lot with staying mentally healthy in starting a business. If you make the time, have the drive, you can get it done. I take the work home, for sure. When I started I would talk business 24/7. I’ve sculpted myself to shake it off and get some other hobbies. That goes back into the business just as much as taking from it. If you’re going to have happy family that’s what you gotta do. I’m still working on figuring out my work/life balance. Amy and I love camping and going to the lake on the weekends. But, if someone walks in the day before we leave asking for a 35,000 dollar job, that’s not something we can say no to. I’ve learned that scheduling is key. Saying no is hard. There’s a balance even with Amy wanting me to say no. We make decisions as a family. I’ve found that saying yes to something is just not worth it sometimes.”
Ryan Calloway is an artist to the core. He and Amy run Creative Ironworks and the Artistry Gallery together. Creative Ironworks is a network of metal artists. He told me with a smile, “if they’re going to come hang out, they’re gonna get put to work.” Often the metal artists will help run the Artistry Gallery.
I asked Ryan what some of his favorite work is. If you’ve lived in Greenville for any amount of time, chances are you’ve seen his work around town. He told me that the Dalia piece on Stone avenue, across from Universal Joint, is one of his favorites to this day.