Whidbey beeswax candle maker’s art casts warm glow for holidays

Priscilla Lowry has been turning the building blocks of beehives into extraordinary candles since 1999.

By Patricia Guthrie / Special to The Herald

Heat, light, combustion. And beeswax.

These basic elements provide the glowing alchemy and artistry of Priscilla Lowry, who has been turning the building blocks of beehives into extraordinary candles since 1999.

Lowry’s business, WhidbeyWaxWorks, began as an offshoot of her former downtown Langley store, LowryJames Rare Prints and Books.

“I started making candles just to give to my shop clients as gifts during the holidays, ” Lowry said. “Then I brought the candles into the shop to sell, and every year, the production just got bigger and bigger.”

Last-minute local shoppers knew they could make a beeline, so to speak, to her store for a handmade holiday gift.

“On Christmas Eve, there was a stream of folks walking out with these packages,” Lowry said. “I figured it out early in the game it was best to offer something that’s unique, that’s beautifully handmade, beautifully wrapped and ready to go under the tree.”

More than two decades after Lowry went from bookseller to chandler, her candle repertoire has expanded to 26 styles, with a never-ending palette of colors and shapes for all seasons. The styles range from intricate impressions of lace eggs, tiny angels and filigree pillars to a whimsical collection of sassy dragons, woodland bears and corncobs.

Freshly poured wax hardens in a candle mold. Lowry starts her process with 20-pound chunks of beeswax she buys from Northwest apiaries. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Freshly poured wax hardens in a candle mold. Lowry starts her process with 20-pound chunks of beeswax she buys from Northwest apiaries. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

She’s added pastel colors and experimented with deep, vibrant colors such as tangerine, aubergine and peacock blue.

“It’s been a real joy watching what people gravitate toward,” Lowry said as she looked over her display at the Langley Friday Street Market. “Peacock is a big hit and everybody loved the tangerine dream I called my ‘power colors.’ ”

She uses 100% pure filtered beeswax that she buys from apiaries around the Pacific Northwest.

Most candles, which are produced in mass and sold in stores everywhere, are made from paraffin, a byproduct of petroleum.

Lowry’s candles sold at local Whidbey farmers markets and through her online store are the definition of handmade. Twenty-pound chunks of beeswax are melted down, filtered for debris and poured into 1-pound blocks. She adds eco-friendly dyes and then tenderly transfers the amber-colored goo into numerous molds, which she also makes. Each batch is based on customer orders, seasonal sales and, of course, the spirit of the chandler.

“I never know how the candle and color is going to turn out until I take it out of its mold,” she said. “It’s like taking things out of the kiln and seeing how the beautiful colors have sharpened or mellowed.”

Lowry’s candles make ideal Christmas gifts. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lowry’s candles make ideal Christmas gifts. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

No oils, scents or fragrances are added. Lowry takes a dim view of scented candles.

“I know it’s all the rage now with soy candles with all kinds of perfume and oils, but I never scent my candles, ” she said. “When you’re sitting down for a delicious meal, you don’t want an enhanced aroma wafting at you.”

In fact, Lowry’s candles help clean the air.

“Beeswax evaporates naturally into the air, ” she said. “They emit negative ions, which is serving to clear out all the impurities in the air.”

Lowry recently opened a new studio, set back in the quiet woods less than 1 mile from downtown Langley.

She welcomes candle makers and visitors curious about candle-making to stop by the tiny workshop she dubs “The Bee Skep.” (A skep is a straw or wicker beehive.)

Bordered by hemlocks, cedars and Douglas firs, Lowry hears ravens by day, owls by night as she works in her small studio, tending to the craft she loves and depends on for her livelihood.

Her beeswax candles, which cost from $12 to $45, show no sign of waning in popularity. Lowry’s business has proven pandemic- and recession-proof. It also helps that Whidbey Island is prone to winter power outages that can last for days.

Lauren Corson, of Clinton, helped her husband shop for holiday gifts for his medical staff in 2020. Dr. Marshall Corson is a cardiologist at UW Medical Center’s Regional Heart Center in Edmonds. She was searching for a unique gift made on Whidbey Island when she found WhidbeyWaxWorks. Lauren and Marshall picked out 13 of Lowry’s angel candles.

“I realized it would be a perfect expression of thanks,” Corson said. “It really represented what they bring forth to patients, what they bring forth to the community, and especially through the past year their dedication — their hearts. They were all angels.”

Corson is now a fan of WhidbeyWaxWorks — she didn’t stop ordering at the 13 angel candles. She likes to visit Lowry’s studio to watch her at work and to peruse her candles at the Langley Friday Street Market and Bayview Farmers Market.

Lisa Butters, of Seattle, has been a customer of Lowry’s since she operated LowryJames Rare Prints and Books in Langley. When she’s shopping for Christmas gifts, WhidbeyWaxWorks is her No. 1 stop. Butters has bought Lowry’s beeswax candles for 15 years. Her favorite candles? The filigree pillars.

“They burn beautifully,” said Butters, who puts out Lowry’s candles only for special occasions. “They just have such a beautiful glow when they’re lit, and as they’re burning down, the wax falls away and you’re left with this beautiful lattice work that the candlelight shines through.”

Both Corson and Butters appreciate that Lowry’s candles are a labor of love. She’s an expert in natural history and fine arts from the 1500s to the 1900s, and yet she’s thrown her heart and soul into this Old World art form.

No matter what shape, size or shade a customer picks up to peruse or picks out to buy, Lowry is sure to expound on the elegance and energy of her product.

“The golden light of a beeswax candle is the spectrum of the sun,” she said, “so it’s the purest light there is.”

Where to buy them

WhidbeyWaxWorks Artisan Beeswax Candles can be purchased directly at The Bee Skep, 5018 Langley Road, Langley. The Bee Skep is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily until Christmas. For more information, call 360-774-3712 or go to www.WhidbeyWaxWorks.com.

Washington North Coast Magazine

This article is featured in the winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.