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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Candle Art

Kym Francis, of The Candle Studio, skillfully peals back delicate colored layers of wax to create one of his highly detailed carved candles.
For centuries, beeswax has been the preferred sculpture medium for those artists creating three dimensional works of art. Whether they were sculptors, jewelery makers, gold or silversmiths, or chandlers, each found the material crucial to their trade. Of course, the very softness of wax which makes it such an practical creative medium, is also its weakness. Anything made from it must be cast in some other material, usually some type of metal, in order to be considered permanent. There was, however, one sculptural item for which it was ideal--candles. Yet it wasn't until late in the 19th century, after the advent of electrical lighting, that wax was freed from its all-important practical applications to be seen as a sculpture medium in its own right. And by that time, after 1850s, a British chemist had distilled paraffin from coal and oil shales, which largely eliminated costly beeswax from its use in candlemaking.

Modern day molded or carved beeswax candles.
Candles have been around for millennia. The oldest ones existant today date from China around 200 BC. They were made of whale fat, similar in nature to the tallow candles which provided nightime illumination for the world for the next twenty centuries. Never, during all that time, did anyone ever consider them an item to be carved into art objects. Tallow was far from a good sculpture medium and not ever a very good material for making candles. It was soft, smokey, liable to become rancid, and worst of all, stunk to high heaven (and probably beyond) when burned. Beeswax was, of course available during all that time, and it was odorless. But, unlike tallow, it was not easily available, and thus was only used to light the home of the rich (or those of beekeepers).

Too pretty to burn.
As the candle burns, it reveals
metal sculptural figures.
Today, candles are almost totally cer-emonial or ornamental in use, which further frees them from any constraints as to size, shape, color, or wax content (there are several different formula combinations depending upon the purpose and nature of the candles). That, of course, brings up the dilemma confronting art candles today. In order to give off light, the art object must be destroyed. Very often candle lovers come face to face with the fact that their candles are simply "too pretty to use" (above). In short, they can't have their candles and burn them too. One solution to that problem may be seen at right.

Candles that make a statement, with or without flames.
Be careful where you place candles
such as these novelty items.
For the candlemaking sculptor today, virtually the same choices as to methods are applicable in creating their art as with any other form of sculpture--addition (the melt-ing of wax pieces together); subtraction (carving the wax); or modeling and molding.

Though seldom what one would classify as pretty or beautiful, one of the major types of candles today are what we could broadly term "novelty" art. Anyone offended by the hand gesture candles (above) you can simply be told, "lighten up, it's only a candle." The bomb candles (left) might be a bit more difficult to explain under certain circumstances. Leave them at home when traveling.

After carving a chunk of wax (paraffin) into the desired shape,
colored wax or (non-toxic) oil based paints are applied, sometimes
having the effect of disguising the fact that the object is actually a candle.
Perhaps the most artistic and probably the most challenging type of candle art today are those both carved and painted (above). In the case of the candle collector having "money to burn," the details are applied using a decal. Such realism in candlemaking owes much to the fact that wax is often the medium of choice in making faux food displays. Just add a wick and the "fake food" becomas a candle, which appears not only too pretty to burn. but too delicious-looking as well.

Serving glassware often makes ideal candleholders.
An oil-based candle.
The candle holder is often
as important as the candle.
Let there be light...bulbs.
For the chiropractor who has everything.
The French (of course) have come up
with this candle for those desiring a little
more wax on their bones.

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