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The woman who reinvented Oaxaca beeswax candle making

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For 300 years, the art of beeswax candle-making in Teotitlan del Valle, Mexico was a sacred service in exchange for food. It was not a business. That convention changed when, to provide for her family in the 1970s and 80s, Viviana Alávez reinvented her ceremonial candle designs and started charging money for her hard work.

It was a controversial move at the time, but it not only transformed Alávez’s family, it revived the folk art for makers across the region, too. From Business Insider‘s Still Standing video series, this is How One Woman Saved Her Family’s 300-year-old Candle Making Tradition.

More from this beautiful, picture-filled profile in Vogue:

Doña Viviana created her first vela at the age of eight, using the molds her grandmother had inherited from her mother before her. Orphaned at a young age, Doña Viviana spent her entire childhood at her grandmother’s side. Melting and coloring the beeswax, pouring it into the wooden molds, cooling the molds with water, perfecting her craft. Quality was always a driving force for Doña Viviana…

Viviana Alávez
Viviana Alávez's largest candles

“She was the sole source of income and the only way for our family to get ahead,” her son José Hernández Alávez recalled. “In the old days in the candle-making community, the women did the artistic labor, but things were run by the men. For this reason, Doña Viviana was even more marginalized for daring to express her ideas and to commercialize her work.”

Undeterred by the reaction it stirred in her hometown, Doña Viviana took a gamble that paid off. Not only was she able to support her family, but she single-handedly revived the region’s legendary candle-making industry. As her market expanded, so did her need for assistance. Doña Viviana once again did the unthinkable. She opened her atelier up, not just to members of her family as was the custom, but also to women in the village or the surrounding area interested in apprenticing with her and learning the tradition of making these candles.

See Vogue’s moving images: This Oaxacan Family Is Breaking the Mold of a Centuries-Old Candle-Making Tradition.

Then watch more videos set in Mexico, as well as these videos about candles on TKSST:
• How to carve colorful decorative candles
• “Salvation Fish” Transform From Animal to Candle
• Candle Making (1963)

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