For a while now, Alysia Mazzella has been wanting to offer her 100% beeswax candles, which she slowly handcrafts in a studio in Newburgh, on an affordable sliding scale fee. But she didn’t know how to figure out who truly couldn’t pay in full. The pandemic motivated her. “I keep hearing from my customers how much candles help with relaxing and anxiety — creating a place of solitude or a place of gathering around the dinner table with family. These traditional candles are essential to our emotions, our soul beyond the physical,” she said.
Alysia Mazzella wanted to reach whoever needed candles. A sliding scale pulls community in, rather than donating out anonymously. Still, she didn’t want abuse. When she ran across another maker offering a “storytelling sliding scale,” she knew this was right for her, too. She set it up on her website, writing: “A sliding scale system based on storytelling inherently prevents misuse while connecting me and you in a different way. Not just maker and patron, but two people who can support each other.”
A handful of people have since reached out for sliding scale candles. Their stories have been similar: they’ve lost jobs, are stuck at home, and aren’t sure about the future. “But they still want to support their spirit. It’s really nice,” she said.
ALYSIA MAZZELLA ON HER FIRST CANDLES
Mazzella, an artist, started making candles in 2017 — a response to “the usual American/Western work place of unsustainability and mass production.” She had been lighting candles at meals and when she meditated. When she found out most candles contain unsafe chemicals, she started making her own from beeswax. “It’s natural and smells amazing,” she said.
At first, the candles were “sloppy and bumpy,” but she loved the work. “My ancestors are Black and Indigenous and I feel this resounding yes when I am working with my hands and creating,” she said. It also felt right that the candles were easily “accepted into the world,” and sales came mainly through word of mouth — online and in a few stores. People loved them as much as she loved making them. “There aren’t a lot of hand dipped beeswax candles. There are hand poured ones, but they are clean and symmetrical. Mine have lumps. People are looking for that,” she said.
Mazzella’s beeswax comes from a regenerative beekeeper near Buffalo, N.Y. — a family apiary. “It’s so vibrant! It’s so golden! Beeswax is filled with nectar and pollen, which gives it color and scent. They don’t melt it down until I am ready for my order — all of the delicious floral essence of the nectar and the trees is still in there. They don’t leave it on a shelf where it can lose color,” she explained.
She has never kept bees, but hopes to some day on a farm with an old house she and her partner recently purchased and are restoring near Oneonta, N.Y. “The goal is to have a restorative liberating skill sharing place for Black people and people of color,” she said of her five acres. “I have always done moon gatherings. I come from a line of farmers and have always had this vision of bringing all of these things together.”
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Mazzella’s new town is about 98 percent white. Her brother has been beaten by the police and her father has been chased by supremacists. “This is the real world. We have always lived here. The awakening is that we are teaming together. People are talking and talking. That’s so beautiful and I’m so happy this is happening right now in our lifetime, but it has always been our lives,” she said.
Before she started making candles in 2017, Mazzella worked for a restorative justice non-profit, The Restorative Center, in Newburgh. She’s deeply inspired by people working for long-term change. “I don’t want to lose hope,” she said. “For me, it’s about creating community.” That’s her version of a way forward.
These days, Mazzella’s life is intentionally slow and full of ritual. She wakes up and heats her beeswax, which takes two hours to melt to the perfect temperature to dip. “I need a lot of silence and alone time in the morning to get centered, especially in the world as we are,” she said. Cooking is part of her ritual, though she cooks less in warm seasons, mainly eating vegetables and fruit. As her beeswax heats, she’s partial to oatmeal. Her go-to lunch is arugula salads. A recent dinner highlight was chicken gyros, with a tzatziki sauce she homemade, naturally. “It’s super refreshing and easy to make: two cups of whole milk Greek yogurt, plus fresh dill, diced garlic, salt, pepper to taste, then a teaspoon of vinegar, and, finally, add in a small cucumber (process in the food chopper, then squeeze out all juice).”
To purchase candles, head to Mazzella’s website.
Do you know someone who works at Instagram or Facebook? Alysia Mazzella recently got locked out of her own Instagram account because it was flagged as an “underage account.” (She’s 30!). She hasn’t been able to access her account for over a month even while constantly appealing the decision. If you want to help, she’s created a call to action here.
Alysia Mazzella loves and supports The Free Black Woman’s Library, run by a friend. “Reading as a Black person shouldn’t be radical, but it is. It shows you how disgusting and deep rooted and systematic America’s racism is.”
If you have beewax candle scraps, recycle them via Mazzzella’s beeswax exchange program.