The Light of Easter

Works of candle art celebrate the season.

When Martin Marklin was a young altar boy, he got intrigued by the candles that were used in his church at Easter. The design on the Paschal candles, as the church calls them, had been hand-carved by a Polish woman in the parish. "I remember rubbing my finger across the candle, wondering how she did it," Marklin says. "It was a mystery."

The candles - carved and inlaid with colored hot wax - were unlike any Marklin had seen. Paschal candles were usually decorated with stuck-on decals, paint, pieces of ribbon or mylar - hardly the works of art the woman at his church produced.

While Marklin was in the seminary in the early '70s, the woman died without revealing her candle work secrets. Home on break one year, the artistically inclined Marklin decided to try his hand at the candles. "Some urging inside said let's give these things a whirl," he says.

His first attempt was a disaster ("there was candle wax all over the kitchen table"), but he gradually perfected the technique and in 1985 he sold six of his intricately designed, hand-carved, hand-dipped, half-beeswax candles. Twelve months later, he had tripled his sales. Today his company, Marklin Candle Design, located in Contoocook, is one of just seven in the country that makes liturgical candles. "We are the smallest, the youngest and, we believe, the best," Marklin says.

Evidence the fact that the company has made candles for important religious occasions - visits by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict among them - and now sells to a good percentage of the country's cathedrals.

Each of the liturgical candles the company makes - some of them quite large, up to 72 inches tall - is individually crafted and bears the stamp of the artist; no mass production here.

Marklin says his greatest joy as a liturgical artist comes not from making the candles, but from lighting them: "Only in the vitality of a liturgical context are mere artifacts given meaning and life."

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