Playing with Fire

Ron Pavlovich has no interest in ordinary tapers, pillars or votives. As one of only seven master chandlers in the world, he waxes poetic by creating the most extraordinary candles that chemistry will allow from the workshop of his Lake Erie home.

on Pavlovich heads to the three-car garage of his Selkirk, Ontario, home and gets to work. He stands in front of two 8-foot-long tables covered with row after row of empty steel votives and places a pure cotton wick imported from Germany in each one. With a stainless steel teapot, he begins the task of pouring paraffin wax blended with dyes and fragrance. As the wax cools, it shrinks, making a second pour necessary. In the next two hours, he will fill 400 votives.

Playing with Fire
Photo: Laura Watilo Blake

His next task takes longer — sculpting angel candles made with silicon molds. The tricky part is making the wings thin enough to allow light to shine through.

Ron and his wife, Anne, sell more than a million candles a year at their White Flame Candle Co. in nearby Hamilton. Most are manufactured locally in Ontario, but the specialty candles are all made by Ron, who in 2001 became one of only seven master chandlers in the world.

To earn the distinction, he had to first make a basic three-inch pillar candle with white wax. The candle had to be free of any cosmetic blemishes and burn evenly for two hours without producing any smoke. “One speck of dirt and you don’t make it,” Ron says.

But that was just the start. Ron had to produce 23 more candles. Some were scented, some were tapers and others were specialty candles with embedded objects. Each had to be perfect. Ron carefully wrapped the two-dozen candles in bubble wrap and tissue paper and drove them to the annual convention of the International Guild of Candle Artisans in Lake Ozark, Mo., where four master chandlers judged his creations.

“Like other crafts and art forms, candle making is on the decline,” Ron says. “Run-of-the-mill candles are sold just about everywhere.”

And run-of-the-mill doesn’t interest Ron. He enjoys experimenting with different waxes, fragrances and ingredients to achieve surprising outcomes. Take the White Flame Candle Co.’s love candle ($50), for example. Formulated with the pheromone known as androstenone, the candle is reputed to be a female aphrodisiac, turning any man into a Don Juan. “It’s not cheap, but it works,” he says.

One of Ron’s current challenges is to make a candle that has green and earth tones but turns blue and forms a mini Niagara Falls as it burns. He’s tried with more than 200 candles, but none have worked quite right.

“It’s one of my biggest challenges as a master,” Ron says. “You have to formulate the color content so that one overcomes the other. It’s just a matter of finding a pigment that will float the blue color over the green, and then precipitate to the bottom of the candle.”

The candle company wasn’t the first business Ron and Anne ran together. Avid collectors of old kerosene lamps, the pair opened an antique store in a historic honey barn located on their Hamilton property in 1977. When a fire destroyed the building in 1995, they were ready for a change.

“Out of the ashes, we thought we’d do something else,” says Ron. “Candles were complementary to the lamp business. It was like we were sent a message.”

The seed had been planted several years earlier when one of the antique store’s artisan candle suppliers ceased operations. One day Ron told Anne, “I think I can make these.” So he went to the library and started reading and buying Crock-Pots for melting wax.

“Things just started falling into place,” says Anne.

In the garage, Ron finishes up his last batch of the day and gazes out the window at the lake, his favorite apple tree, blue spruces and Scotch pines. He grabs a beer, heads for his deck to watch the boats go by and lights one of his latest creations — a candle made with citronella and java oil he’s so confident in that he offers a money-back guarantee that you won’t get bit while it’s lit.

Although candles surround him even when he relaxes, Ron never tires of them.

“Each time is an adventure,” he says. “That’s exactly how I feel when I make candles. Every one, you strive for it to be the very best. Achieving perfection is endless.”