06.07.22 Plant People

Georgia Hilmer: I think a lot of people experience candles as objects divorced from nature. And since we are no longer dependent on them as a primary light source, candles have shifted from functional to ornamental entities for a lot of people. How do you think about their value in modern society?

Alysia Mazzella: You’re so right. Because of electricity, candles have become air fresheners. The value of candles has shifted to mass-produced cups filled with man-made scented wax. The average person doesn't know where their candle's wax comes from, what a high quality candle is, and what it means to have a well-burning candle. These conversations are part of the reason I work with beeswax only, no added scents, no added dyes. I want to show people that locally-sourced beeswax is incomparable. Beeswax is the oldest known wax on earth. Beeswax at its best is pure, fresh, and vibrant in scent and color. It burns cleaner and longer and brighter than all other waxes. Humans have ceremoniously gathered around fire for over a million years. It was only over the last few hundred years that electricity has invaded our homes and the nighttime. There's much to gain by skipping the light switch and carving out time to light a daily candle.

Starting with the honeybees themselves and ending in your studio, how long would you say it takes to make a candle?

Good question! Beginning to end, it takes over six months: a season or two of the honeybees making their wax and then one or two months of the beekeeper harvesting and rendering the wax. I specialize in hand dipped tapers, which take about thirty dips to get the right width.

What’s your favorite part of the process?

My favorite part is being in relationship with local beeswax. What I've seen is that each batch of beeswax varies in scent and color. The plant material brought into the hive influences each batch of beeswax. Some colors are a deeper gold, others are lighter yellow. Even the scent changes with each batch.

When did you first learn about beekeeping? Did it feel accessible? Intuitive?

When I began making beeswax candles in 2017 I got interested in beekeeping. It didn't feel like something I should jump into because people would randomly tell me about getting a hive and unknowingly killing their bees. It sounds horrible, because it is, but those hobby beekeeping horror stories encouraged me to wait years until I properly studied, got a mentor, and was ready to dedicate my life to theirs.

What is the beekeeping community you’ve experienced thus far like? What are your hopes for how it might change?

My mission with Backland's education apiary is to create a network that gathers, educates and increases the number of BIPOC beekeepers. When I purchase local beeswax, I see firsthand how white beekeeping is, which is mostly because of colonization and systemic racism. We're holding introductory courses on the land this summer for beginner BIPOC interested in making a living as a beekeeper.

I am also interested in regenerative beekeeping, which means little interjection, without the use of chemical pest treatments or artificial feed. But for now, I'm transitioning very slowly into regenerative ways. Our first priority is that the bees are alive and well, so it’s tough to abandon all common practice when there's not a lot of information out there. But I hope over the next five years to step fully into regenerative beekeeping.

What are some cycles that define your work?

Ebb and flow. Rest and work. Being a hermit and showing out.

I imagine you’ve learned a lot about bees — what have you learned from bees?

You know, reading and researching and asking questions is the basis of a beekeeper's job. But they've taught me that sitting with the hives is sometimes enough to support their well-being. For instance, when winter comes, beekeeping turns to faith. I've found that I get an intuitive feeling about what's going on inside the hive just by listening and watching.