Velas in the Valle: Handmade Beeswax Candles Part of Ritual + Tradition

Tucked away down a dirt lane in a corner of Teotitlan del Valle is the home of Señora Viviana Maves Hipolito who is recognized by Banamex Foundation as one of the Grand Masters of Oaxaca Folk Art (Maestros Grandes de Arte Popular de Oaxaca).

She works in her courtyard with her family alongside her, grandchildren running underfoot. Huge cauldrons of beeswax sit atop a wood fire. Some are colored with cochineal to make the wax red.

With her daughter-in-law at her side, Señora Viviana holds wooden molds that will form hummingbirds, angels, and huge roses. She dips her hands into the bubbling hot wax for a moment and as she lifts her hand, the wax hardens. Shapes are created by scissors and fingers.

These beeswax candles are symbolic of community life in Teotitlan del Valle. Very long candles with intricate decorations are used for all major ceremonies. There is a special candle called a contentamiento that is presented to a young woman’s family by a young man’s family when he wants their daughter’s hand in marriage. It is a way of saying, We will take good care of her.

Candles adorn the altars of every home during the festival days and there are many in this village. When I visited Señora Viviana last week, she didn’t have any big candles left. The village had just ended its annual weeklong festival to honor her patron saint Preciosa Sangre de Cristo (Precious Blood of Jesus Christ). Her candles became part of the ceremonies in the church and in homes throughout the village.

Each step is a handmade process, from making the fire, carving the molds, melting the wax, hanging the wick, hand-pouring hot liquid beeswax over and over again until the desired thickness is reached. As with most handmade arte popular in Oaxaca, the creation is a team effort by extended family.

It is worth a special visit to meet her. Call ahead for an appointment so the family can prepare to greet you!

Señora Vivana Maves Hipolito, Abasolo #7, Teotitlan del Valle, 951-524-4309. She doesn’t charge for a demonstration (Monday through Saturday), so please be sure to buy something in order to support the family and compensate them for their gift of time and talent.

To find out more about beeswax candle making in the U.S.A. Click Here.

4 responses to “Velas in the Valle: Handmade Beeswax Candles Part of Ritual + Tradition

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. A beeswax chandler myself, I’m always interested in how other chandlers, especially from other countries, create. Great photos of a labour of love! -CK

  2. What wonderful photos!
    We were fortunate enough to watch Vivana make flowers about 7 years ago. She is amazing!
    I’m glad that she is still going strong.
    Thanks for sharing!!

    • Hi Julie. Thanks so much for the compliment about the photos.
      Yes, Viviana is such a Oaxaca treasure. It’s amazing to me to be able to capture the masters in their home workshops with their families. I often have to pinch myself and remember that these artists won’t live forever and I have the privilege of knowing and documenting their work.

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