Stumble down the cobblestones of Antigua Guatemala’s 1era Avenida Sur and you will eventually come across an unmarked house with just a candle hanging over its door frame. Inconspicuous as it may be, the small building actually houses what is now the city’s longest running business: a candle store.
“It first opened in 1870”, explains the current owner, Claudia Cuevas Castillo. The store was originally founded by her great-great-grandfather, Sebastián del Pinal, over 145 years ago. “He brought it over as an art”, continues Mrs. Cuevas Castillo, “it is now a mix of that art he learned in Spain and the techniques used by the indigenous people of Guatemala.”
Their candle-making techniques are a family secret that they protect very carefully. “It has been passed down from generation to generation and my grandmother made me promise that I would never share it with anyone else”, Mrs. Cuevas Castillo recalls. According to the candle-maker, her grandmother did, at some point, bring someone outside her family to work at the shop. However, after learning their techniques, they opened up a store of their own and became their main competition. “I’m from a different generation”, she continues, “I know that if someone wanted to know how to make a candle, they could easily find it in YouTube. However, although the times have changed, I can still not break that promise to my family”.
According to Mrs. Cuevas Castillo, who runs the business alongside her husband, their candle-making process has remained largely unchanged since the store first opened its doors. “We don’t use any molds or machines. We use our hands, our creativity and the passion behind each piece. All-natural products.”
Their candles are made out of beeswax mainly harvested by beekeepers in Guatemala’s pacific coast and their candle wicks are made out of cotton. They also use firewood and coal to melt the blocks of beeswax. The candles get their color from natural dyes, and Mrs. Cuevas Castillo and her husband only use dyes of the three primary colors which they then mix continuously to get any other color they want. “That’s one thing that’s changed”, Mrs. Cuevas Castillo relates, “my grandmother would mix and match the dyes until she got something close to the color she envisioned in her mind. My husband, on the other hand, is a chemical engineer so he measures everything very carefully to get the desired result”.
Mrs. Cuevas Castillo also explained that beeswax is only in-supply during the earlier months of the year, which makes their prices be well above the market average. “This thing, the beeswax, is like gold to us. We don’t waste any of it. We’ll pick up the tiniest bits and use them somehow.”