Dennis Dowe, of Cape May Court House, is a candle-sculpting artist who crafts intricate, fantastical and flammable art forms out of melted wax with wicks.
Standing in his studio on a recent afternoon, which he typically keeps at 95 degrees, Dowe demonstrated the art of candlemaking by crafting a wax rose with delicate red petals and green leaves.
Set up on the long counter before him was a series of heated pots, each filled with a different colored molten wax next to a small workspace where he carves, which was covered in spatters, drips, scraps and brick-size chucks of rainbow colored hardened wax remnants.
Turning his focus to the rose candle, Dowe took a wand of red wax and continuously dipped it in the pot of red molten wax to make it more malleable. He then took a small carving knife to the cylinder and began slicing off half-dollar sized rounds like you would cut a stick of pepperoni. He began to mold the warm small disks between his fingertips, creating delicate rose petals, which he would then layer upon one another to create a beautiful blooming rose with a wick at its center.
Asked whether he ever feels sad to see his hard work melt into a puddle of liquid and ash, Dowe said no, the fire element and the melting process are both integral parts of his art.
"I use the glow as an actual feature," he said.
For example, he will create a castle, painstakingly carving out each stone of its walls, and then place the wick so that it burns through to light up the inside of the castle and shine through its tiny windows. Same goes with jack o'lanterns. Not only does the flame light up the pumpkins' insides, but as it melts, wax tears begin to seep out from jack-o'lanterns now-drooping eyes, adding an additional creepy element to the Halloween decor.
Ever since Dowe was a child, he's been drawn to art, but it wasn't until his adulthood that he found his passion for candle making.
He worked for a candlemaker about 20 years ago and fell in love with the craft. He later went out on his own and got a job working a candle booth at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair, where he demonstrated the craft and sold his one-of-a-kind candles.
In January, Dowe was juried into the Cape May County Artists Cooperative. The co-op artists sell their work out of the West End Garage in Cape May. Since becoming a member of the co-op, Dowe said his art has taken off.
The quick turnover of his candles means he has more practice at candle making and is getting better by the day.
"I feel like I'm just getting started, even after all these years," he said. "People who were familiar with my work are looking at the candles that I've made in the last couple months and they are like, 'Wow, that's the best work you've ever done,' and I agree."
Contact Elisa Lala:
To purchase Dowe's candles