Rosendale Waxworks is the combined effort of Shaun Johnston and Wilda Gallagher. Husband and wife as well as business partners in the new venture, the two have launched the brick-and-mortar shop with the intention of providing a venue for local candle- and soap-makers as well as a showcase for their own handcrafted art candles.
Johnston’s candle-making workspace is in the window of the store, where he can see passersby and they him. As an inventor with a number of patents, creating new types of candles is part of the appeal for him in having taken up the craft. Recent projects have included a candle that appears on first glance to be rice in a chinoiserie bowl, complete with shallow spoon stuck in the wax “rice,” as if someone’s meal has just been interrupted. And Johnston’s single-session meditation candles have a conceptual bent to them: as the wax melts and becomes transparent, a “window” opens up and the viewer can then see a decorative design at the bottom of the dish. Made for the person who loves to gaze at candles while meditating, says Johnston, the wax burns for approximately three hours.
In addition to his inventions, which include a wearable easel, an erasable sketch tablet and several games that aid in human discourse, Johnston had a career as a graphic designer and branched off into web design. He has written several books about evolution, composed a performance utilizing ventriloquism dummies and has created a body of work in fine art. Candle-making began about a year ago, he says, “and it just blossomed into my passionate hobby. And then Wilda picked up on it and began to do a lot of research on making candles and soaps, and we said, ‘You know, this could be fun for us to do together.”
Gallagher is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in painting. When she retired, she says, “I decided to go back and pick up that part of myself I had set aside over the years and started classes at the Woodstock School of Art. I’m still a student of Meredith Rosier there, doing abstract drawings with her, and it’s an entirely different approach to the realism or representational work I did before.” The work she’s doing at WSA is conceptual and intellectual, she adds, which means the new candle shop provides a juxtaposition to that in the creation of craft.
Her interest in candle-making is centered in making art candles. “I’m fascinated with whimsy, and whimsical candles. As soon as we get the store settled down, I’m going to have my “lab” in the middle part of the store. We expect the candles and soaps we carry, with more of a mass appeal, to sort of support the experimental art candles.”
At this point, there is no plan to go into online retailing, with the couple committed to the brick-and-mortar operation as a way of showcasing local candle- and soap-makers and providing a space for them to sell their wares. “We opened this for the point of being in town,” Johnston says, “seeing people, and providing a service that can be useful to people in the community. There isn’t another candle and soap store closer than Candlestock [in Woodstock].”
“We’d like to be a channel for local craftspeople,” adds Gallagher, “welcoming to everybody and offering things affordable to everybody.”
Rosendale Waxworks currently represents craftspeople from Kerhonkson, Accord, Beacon and Albany. In addition to handmade soaps and candles, the shop will sell related accessories such as soap dishes and pottery, and carry several lines of candles from elsewhere that fit in with the local products, such as the Aloha Bay line produced by a cooperative in Malaysia using pure ingredients obtained in a sustainable manner.
Johnston and Gallagher live in Tillson, having met on Match.com as widowers in 2011 and marrying not long afterward. Both are British and grew up in areas of London not far from each other; both going through The Blitz (as children) during World War II. Johnston has lived in Tillson since 1983, with Gallagher a more recent transplant from New York City, where she lived in Brooklyn until retiring up to this region to be closer to family.
When the two first began making candles, they considered selling their creations at craft fairs, but on a walk down Main Street during the recent Rosendale Street Festival, they saw a sign in the window of what is now their shop advertising the space for rent. Noticing the craftspeople on the street looking a bit tired on what was a very hot day, Gallagher says, they approached a few of the artisans and asked if they would be interested in placing their wares in a shop.
The response was enthusiastic, so opening Rosendale Waxworks became something that “we sort of backed into quite unexpectedly,” Johnston says. “We also want to encourage community; maybe have some kind of group of local craftspeople that can work together to build new ideas. We have a beautiful conference room at the back that holds 12-16 people and can be curtained off.”
Candle production will not be offered in the carpeted space, as that could be potentially hazardous, but Johnston says he sees the opportunity to hold discussions or conversations there, or perhaps offer courses. “We’re really enjoying settling in, and of course, Rosendale is such a cute town. You have the street on one side and the stream on the other, so it’s a lovely environment.”
The two seem to enjoy their role as shopkeepers sharing information about the products they offer. “The pace is just about our pace,” Gallagher says. “We would not be having a lot of fun if we were in a busy mall on the other side of a cash register just saying, ‘May I help you.’”
Rosendale Waxworks is located at 415 Main Street in Rosendale. The hours are currently Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., but that may change when the holiday season arrives. For more information, call (845) 658-2448. Facebook and Instagram pages have been created and the new website should be operational by press time at www.rosendalewaxworks.com.