Modern Makers: Queer Candle Co.

Interview with Al Rose and Ab Gibson, creators of Queer Candle Co., a socially conscious brand that seeks to support the LGBTQ community.

Can you tell us about your business and mission?

We’re Ab & Al, a queer couple and queer chandlers based in New York City. We are building our business side by side and making products that we love. As a queer-owned business, it’s important to us that we use part of our profits to amplify the voices of the most oppressed members of our community. That’s why we donate 10% of our monthly earnings to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), an organization working to “guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination, or violence.”

Al Rose and Ab Gibson, creators of Queer Candle Co.

Al Rose and Ab Gibson, creators of Queer Candle Co.

What makes your candles—and your business—unique?

Each candle is topped with a visual representation of the scent (generally herbs, but sometimes dehydrated fruits or salt rocks). Our soy wax candles burn longer and cleaner than paraffin options and our attention to detail in sourcing materials means that our fragrances are fresh, non-toxic, and authentic. We find creative ways to make our candles visually appealing and we’re using fresh and natural ingredients to do it. Our botanical approach to candle-making and the platform that we’ve created for promoting queer business and supporting queer-facing nonprofits is unique.

What is your favorite scent combination? What does it evoke?

Al: My favorite scent is Rosemary & Mint. It really fills a room nicely without overpowering and the botanical mix is refreshing and unique. For us, one of the most important parts of creating a scent is making sure that it actually smells like its name and Rosemary & Mint is so authentic! For me, it evokes a walk through an herb garden on a rainy day.

Ab: I am drawn toward earthy scents, with my all-time favorite being Ginger & Saffron. It’s a zesty fragrance that stands out to me as a perfect combination of ground ginger and floral saffron. I feel more calm and creative when we’re burning Ginger & Saffron. Think of a cup of ginger tea in the afternoon. A little pick-me-up that makes a space feel cleaner and promotes focus.

A Basil & Amber scented Queer Candle Co. candle is held up in front of a blurry background of mountain scenery

A Basil & Amber scented Queer Candle Co. candle

Why did you select the Sylvia Rivera Law Project as the recipient of your donations?

The SRLP stood out not only because it’s a grassroots organization working directly in our community, but also because of their focus on amplifying the voices of trans and gender nonconforming people of color. We want to make sure that we are using Queer Candle Co. to support—both with our voices and with our funds—an organization that is promoting the visibility and protection of those who are systematically and cyclically erased/oppressed.

Is there a female artist that inspires you and/or your work?

Musicians really drive our creativity. Our candle-making playlists are always in flux, but currently on heavy rotation are Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, and Cher. These amazing women make us feel empowered to love ourselves, our bodies, and our queerness.

Modern Makers: Beverly Price

Photographer Beverly Price; Photo by Adriana Regalado

Photographer Beverly Price; Photo by Adriana Regalado

Interview with D.C.-based analog photographer and creative activist Beverly Price. Price hails from the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where she documents the culture, resilience, and humanity of her community.

How did you get started?

In 2016 I was going to school for organizational leadership at Georgetown University. I saw the changes [gentrification] in my community and decided I wanted to document them as a D.C. native. After a month of shooting, I got a show at American University with some prominent D.C. artists. After that, I thought I might be on to something.

What do you like about analog photography?

It requires me to use my mind—it is not instant. Great bodies of work take time, skills, observation, and intuition, among many other things. When I see my prints in the darkroom, I just know that a phone could never do the work any justice.

What does community mean to you?

Community is culture. Growing up in Capitol Hill, I was part of a very diverse community. There were wealthy, poor, and middle-class people in my neighborhood—but we worked together and looked out for each other. When this new wave of development hit around 2004 to 2006, it was like a new system of society also arrived. We are losing community with these new buildings, with people constantly on their phones, not communicating. We need to pay attention to this now because it will affect us in the future.

How does your community influence the way that you work?

I was born and raised in D.C., so I can speak the unique language of my community—one that only someone who has been here from childhood through adulthood can understand. I’ve had countless offers to go overseas to document other cultures, but I realized I can’t document another culture until I first see what is happening in my own. That’s my relationship to my community, it’s a mirror to my inner language.

A Seat at the Table by Beverly Price

A Seat at the Table by Beverly Price

What artists do you find inspiring?

I love Gordon Parks. I did a report on him in the eighth grade and his work changed my life. I love Sally Mann, Vivian Maier, and Cindy Sherman. I also just got hip to photographer Francesca Woodman. Her work teaches me the spirituality behind photography.

What is the biggest challenge that you face when doing your work?

Finances. Photography is not a cheap medium but it is a necessary medium for me. I am a not a privileged artist, but I do this with no money because I love it. It’s also a challenge being a queer, black, woman photographer. In society, more men are able to tell their story. My work is 20 times better than half of the photographers I have seen—it tells a stronger story and is more emotionally connected. But being a woman, it won’t always get shown. It can be frustrating.

Modern Makers: Homie House Press

Interview with Adriana Monsalve, co-founder of Homie House Press and co-creator of Sammys, a chapbook exploring culture and identity through food, which is now available in NMWA’s Museum Shop.

Join us for the Sammys Book Launch/Palentines Party on February 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Museum Shop. Celebrate your pals, enjoy live music and poetry performances, try sandwiches featured in the book, and support Homie House Press. Free and open to the public.

 Two hands frame the cover of a book that is titled "Sammys" and the cover is sandwich paper wrapping.

Sammys, edited by Adriana Monsalve and Caterina Ragg; Photo courtesy of Homie House Press

How did Homie House Press begin?

Homie House Press (HHP) is a collaborative project that my partner, Caterina Ragg, and I developed in response to our experiences in the field of photojournalism. Our in-depth, long-term storytelling is both personal and political and was not well received by traditional institutions. Additionally, we faced the problems that arise from a lack of ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in those spaces. Thus, HHP was born as an alternative photojournalism platform that focuses on the experiences of marginalized communities—told on our own terms, though our own lens.

Tell us about the Sammys publication.

Sammys is a project that exists at the intersection of food and identity. We have been investigating and documenting the sandwich consumption of many people from diverse backgrounds, careers, and identities. The purpose of this project is to show a parallel representation of who we are by what we eat.

Food is—and has always been—a vehicle to unite people, to overcome differences, and to share cultures and customs. We hope to intersect identities that may have nothing in common if not for a favorite sandwich.

Two hands frame the Sammys book opened to a photo spread of a deconstructed sandwich including wheat bread, tomato slices, lettuce, and tuna fish.

Sammys, edited by Adriana Monsalve and Caterina Ragg; Photo courtesy of Homie House Press

How does your community influence your work?

Because we are a collective that works within social engagement and community artivism, we have been able to work with many individuals on a broad range of themes and experiences. We also host events and organize workshops and exhibitions related to our publications. We are passionate about design because we want to enhance the reader’s experience by cultivating empathy with the personal, political, and poetic narratives found in our books.

What are your goals for HHP?

To grow our community. To have our own school of thought under Homie House Press that continues to revise what storytelling is and can ultimately be. To continue to foster mentorships and be a courageous safe space for photographers of the future.

Modern Makers: Rose Jaffe

Q&A with Rose Jaffe, a D.C.-based artist and native Washingtonian whose multidisciplinary works feature women and community at the center. Her vibrant murals can be found around D.C., and now in the Museum Shop where a selection of her smaller works are also on sale.

Rose Jaffe and the NMWA mural, photo by Adriana Regalado

Rose Jaffe and the NMWA mural, photo by Adriana Regalado

What is the inspiration behind the NMWA murals?

I want my art to bring color, energy, light, and meaning to a space. The powerful and vibrant women around me inspire my work. I am intrigued by the lines of a face and the stories our bodies tell. By painting larger-than-life portraits of everyday women, I celebrate and honor their existence.

You work in a wide array of mediums—how have you become so versatile?

I have an insatiable appetite for learning and playing with new mediums. More than anything, I tire of paint after a certain point and want to switch it up. I am working on 3D forms now—sculpture, exploring more wood and metal. It’s very exciting to me. I love how art can exist in so many mediums, almost like languages, telling the same story.

What drives the strong thread of activism in your work?

I was lucky to be raised by socially aware parents who took me to marches and rallies in my youth. I stayed engaged in college, and joined an activist collective of artists upon returning to D.C., which influenced me to use my art for a purpose. Art is an amazing conduit for us to build community, create connections, and process and heal trauma. I am passionate about this and always learning how art can spread messages of social empowerment and social change.

Can you name a notable visit to NMWA?
I know I came as a kid, and I remember visiting after college. But my most memorable experience was attending a Fresh Talk featuring the artist Swoon. I got to meet her and fangirl a bit. I cannot express how amazing NMWA’s programming is—and how important the existence of this museum is.

Which women artists are you inspired by right now?

Oh, so many! Painter Lynnea Holland Weiss, artist-activist Kate DeCiccio, illustrator Sara Andreasson, and painter Jessalyn Brooks, to name a few.

Modern Makers: Kuzeh Pottery

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

Left to right: Kuzeh Pottery owners Lisa Ramber and Pegah Shahghasemi in their retail space and studio

CompanyKuzeh Pottery
Makers: Pegah Shahghasemi, Lisa Ramber

Kuzeh Pottery, which gets its name from the word “vase” in Persian, is a teaching and production studio owned by Pegah Shahghasemi and Lisa Ramber. Located on the Arts Walk in Northeast Washington, D.C., Kuzeh’s studio and retail space feature white and brown stoneware.

How did you get started?

PS: I’ve always loved doing pottery and I took it a little bit in high school and then in college, but then I left it alone. . . . After I had my first daughter, I needed to do something that was just for myself and outside my regular nine-to-five job, and outside of the home. I found a small studio close to my house in New York City. I started taking classes and I got addicted. I couldn’t stop.

LR: I got started as a potter after a friend of mine convinced me to take a pottery class. I started and I hated it. After about six weeks, I loved it. . . . Then I found a D.C. studio that had a resident artist space. That is where I met Pegah. And one day I said, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to have a studio?” Four months later this arts walk opened up the studio.

What inspires you?

PS: I really like Middle Eastern designs and I look at a lot of Persian architecture. I like patterns and I like simplicity. So I look at them and try to make them a little bit more modern and apply it to my pieces.

LR: Color is a big influence for me. I love the creative process, taking a lump of clay, trimming it, and then doing something to it that I think makes it look unique.

How do you see your company evolving?

PS: I personally would like to see our company evolve to become a recognizable brand. I think we create a product that is colorful and alive, and we put our hard work into it, and we use our hands to make it. I think it would be so nice to know our work was in people’s homes.

What inspired the limited-edition NMWA product?

PS: I was inspired by Candida Alvarez’s “Puerto Rico” series in Magnetic Fields. I really like the cool colors and bits of red she has in the work. She uses chartreuse and line work in many of her other pieces.

LR: I was inspired by Sylvia Snowden’s work, and the looseness of the brushwork and the bright, saturated colors. It’s not the colors of a traditional landscape, but it felt landscape-y to me still.

Browse the Modern Makers products on Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition ceramics by Kuzeh. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.

Modern Makers: Sharlaine Anapu

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

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Sharlaine Anapu at work; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Company: Sharlaine Anapu
Maker: Sharlaine Anapu

Sharlaine Anapu and her company are based in Washington, D.C. Anapu designs and produces handmade jewelry.

How did you get started?
I took a four-week fabrication class at the Art League. After taking that class I realized art making was something that I wanted to continue. I started taking classes at the Corcoran. They had recently started a jewelry program there, so I started taking those classes too.

What inspires you?
I think for me a lot of it is innate, what I like aesthetically. And in the past, I kind of gravitated more to very organic, natural pieces. But lately I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of things that are important to me like my heritage. I’ve been trying to infuse some of the tattooing designs that are used in Samoan culture into my work.

What does the word “maker? mean to you?
To me it’s somebody that uses their hands to create something. . . an idea that they’ve thought up themselves. That’s how it comes across to me—being able to create my own work, to produce my own designs.

How do you see your company evolving?
I would love to be doing this full-time. Even though I do jewelry, I always think about other products, other things that I could make. I have always been interested in leather belts and leather bracelets. Maybe in the future I could incorporate my jewelry making skills into leather designs and leather goods.

Do you have any insights to share as a female business owner?
I think networking with people and the community is a really good way to find out about shows and come up with ideas. The other women that I share the studio with, we always try to brainstorm with other makers and artists in D.C.

What is your favorite work from NMWA’s collection?
Magdalena Abakanowicz’s 4 Seated Figures made me wonder what the artist was thinking when she created it. It’s a phenomenal work of art.

What inspired the limited-edition NMWA product?
I visited the She Who Tells a Story exhibition and those works really inspired me. I thought about using a dog tag as an object of identification and incorporating my heritage into that. I used tattooing—an important aspect of my culture—on the dog tag to make a great piece.

Browse the Modern Makers products on Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition etched dog tags by Sharlaine Anapu. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.

Modern Makers: Printed Wild

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

Eva Calonder of Printed Wild in her studio; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Eva Calonder at work; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Company: Printed Wild
Maker: Eva Calonder

Printed Wild features a line of handcrafted goods with patterns inspired by nature. Eva Calonder fashions accessories like pouches, clutches, and tote bags as well as home décor products.

How did you get started?
I worked as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator for several years. I had the opportunity to re-think my career. I decided to combine my love for patterns and design into something more crafty. So I took classes at the Corcoran School of Art. I took sewing classes at Bits of Thread, a local sewing school, and then I registered for my first craft fair at the Hillyer Arts Space.

What does the word “maker” mean to you?
I think I was always more interested in making crafts than buying things. As far back as I can remember, my sisters and parents mostly received handmade presents from me.

What inspires you?
My main inspiration is nature. I spend a lot of time observing it to create patterns. I use Micron pens with very fine points to achieve the level of detail I’m looking for. I’m also influenced by trends in fashion. Because my drawings end up on bags, I try to pay attention to the latest accessory looks.

Do you have any insights to share as a female business owner?
There are so many strong and wonderful business women in Washington, D.C. Going to markets and meeting the makers is truly empowering. Share tips and support each other!

How do you begin a new project?
I always start from an original drawing for my patterns. I cut stencils, carve linoleum blocks, and draw very intricate nature scenes. After I have my design, I scan the pattern and edit it in Photoshop. Then the final design is transferred onto a silk screen. I also make all the bags for my designs, which involves cutting fabric or leather, ironing, and sewing.

What is your favorite work from NMWA’s collection?
I discovered Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes’s work. She and her husband opened an art school in 1899 to encourage artists to paint directly from nature. I also loved May Stevens’s SoHo Women Artists, which portrays an incredible group of New York City-based women artists from the 1970s. It’s an era that I would have liked to experience—plus, Stevens paints absolutely gorgeous patterns!

What inspired the limited-edition NMWA product?
I decided to go with what I do best, which is designing patterns inspired by nature. I drew directly from May Stevens’s painting in the museum’s galleries. I combined the patterns I saw in the painting and created one wild pattern.

Browse the Modern Makers products on Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition large foldable clutch and slim clutch by Printed Wild. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.

Modern Makers: Stitch & Rivet

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

Katie Stack, owner of Stitch & Rivet; Photo: NMWA, Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry

Katie Stack, owner of Stitch & Rivet; Photo: NMWA, Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry

Company: Stitch & Rivet
Maker: Katie Stack

Katie Stack owns the studio and retail shop of Stitch & Rivet. Based in Washington D.C., Stitch & Rivet is a canvas and leather bags and accessories company. The business offers a collection of handmade products, including handbags, unisex wallets, belts, small pouches, and other items for everyday use.

What does the word “maker” mean to you?
Being a maker means, to me, the act of creating with your hands.

How did you get started?
I started making things as a small child. My parents tell stories about me in the middle of the night. They would get up and hear me making noise in my room and they would come in and say, “What are you doing?” . . . and I would say, “I am making things.” When it came time for me to go to college I studied costume design and pattern making and started making things professionally.

What inspires you?
At Stitch & Rivet I get my influences for the designs from customers. Customers come in and say, “Hey! I am looking for this thing that does this and I can’t find it anywhere. What would be your take on it?” I do a lot of my work based on my desires for products that I’m not finding in the marketplace. I like to design things that are useful and have a lot of functionality.

What is your favorite work from NMWA’s collection?
My favorite work from NMWA’s collection would have to be one of the Alma Thomas paintings. She was an artist who worked in Washington D.C. and I admire how she used color in such an impactful way.

Can you name a woman artist who inspires you?
The female artist that has inspired me the most is Julie Taymor. She is a costume designer, director, and puppet maker. I saw her speak when I was a freshman in college. I was very impressed that she was a woman working in a male-dominated industry.

What inspired the NMWA limited-edition product?
The NMWA limited-edition product was inspired by the burgeoning Made in D.C. project and the museum itself. The National Museum of Women in the Arts focuses entirely on women’s achievements and this small pouch is a product that we designed together to support that important work.

What else do you want readers to know?
It is important for us as a society to inspire young female artists to continue to produce work and to find their own voices. We should help female artists express themselves creatively and assertively.

Browse the Modern Makers products on Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition waxed-canvas utility pouch by Stitch & Rivet. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.

Modern Makers: Typecase Industries

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

Left to right: Alessandra Echeverri, owner of Typecase Industries, and Sahar Naderi; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Left to right: Alessandra Echeverri, owner of Typecase Industries, and Sahar Naderi; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Company: Typecase Industries
Maker: Alessandra Echeverri 

Typecase Industries is a full-service design and print studio based in Shaw. Located north of Howard University, the company creates wedding invitations, posters, greeting cards, business cards—anything on paper.

How did you get started?
There are three of us and we met during grad school. . . . About a year after we graduated we decided to start the studio as a way to make things and not have to work for anybody else.

What inspires you?
Our clients are really important because we’re making a lot of things for people like wedding invitations—which are very personal—so the inspiration has to come from them in that case. But then we get to do our own product development. . . . We get a lot of inspiration from D.C.

What does the word “maker” mean to you?
“Maker” means someone that uses their skills. . . . uses their creativity, and kind of pushes the boundaries of things that have already been made. I feel like you should always be making something new and exciting—at least for yourself if not for other people, like we do!

How do you see your company evolving?
Expansion. So, I’d like to have more wholesale business or just have more products that people know us for. It kind of frees us up to do more specific custom work and take on those fun projects.

Do you have any insights to share as a female business owner?
I feel like you should always stand your ground when you are dealing with people. Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, just try to be assertive and get your point across. Really go for those goals that you set for yourself.

What is your favorite work from NMWA’s collection?
The museum has a really great collection of artists’ books. Not many people know about artists’ books but we studied them in school and I really appreciated having that resource. It is a little gem in the library.

What inspired the limited-edition NMWA product?
I worked with Sahar Naderi, another local artist that works for Typecase. Together, we made these really cool patterns and went wild with fun shapes and color.

What is your most popular product?
Probably our greeting cards. We have really fun greeting cards that are all over the city now. People often find us through those.

Browse the Modern Makers products on Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition NMWA poster by Typecase Industries. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.

Modern Makers: Handmade Habitat

Inspired by the Makers Mart at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the Modern Makers series highlights local women makers and their diverse companies.

Amina Ahmad, owner of Handmade Habitat; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Amina Ahmad, owner of Handmade Habitat; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Company: Handmade Habitat
Maker: Amina Ahmad

Artist and chandler Amina Ahmad owns Handmade Habitat, an all-natural soy-candle and beauty-goods company specializing in products that uplift and inspire the soul.

Ahmad studied environmental science at the University of Maryland. Passionate about building the creative community in the D.C. metropolitan area, Ahmad is also the co-founder of the Unofficial Hand Lettering Society of Silver Spring. When not in her studio, Ahmad often strolls through her neighbors’ gardens in Takoma Park with her dog, Rosie.

How did you get started?
My business started a few years ago. I originally made bags and clothing. Then one year, I experimented with candle making for Christmas gifts. I ended up really liking it and started incorporating it into the existing business.

What inspires you? 
I am inspired by nature. I am really inspired by artists and a lot of the other work that I see in the world. I’m also inspired by my own yoga practice, which helped me discover what I really value in my work. 

What does the creative process look like for you?
I start with a concept—something that I want to incorporate into my own life. That’s how it has always been. I started making things that I wanted, whether it was a bag, a new dress, or oven mitts.

What does the word “maker” mean to you?
I think a maker has a really wide definition. . . . Making is a core part of my identity. I come from a very D.I.Y family. If there is a problem, you troubleshoot it first with whatever is available before you buy something to fix it.

Limited-edition NMWA Frida Candle by Handmade Habitiat; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

Limited-Edition NMWA Frida Candle by Handmade Habitat; Photo: Adriana Regalado and Malik Cherry, NMWA

How do you see your company evolving?
I think it would be really nice to be able to build a community around the brand that has a lot of the elements of presence, mindfulness, and artistic introspection.

What is your favorite work from NMWA’s collection?
Definitely Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait. I love that there is a Frida in D.C. . . . She provides a lot of power in her images. I think that the museum really shows that there is so much power in being a woman.

What inspired the limited-edition NMWA product?
While walking through the museum, I have the overwhelming feeling that femininity and art are not powerless. The works of art show that there is so much power in being a woman today and at every point in history.

Browse products by Handmade Habitat on the Museum Shop’s website, including the limited-edition Frida Candle, inspired by NMWA’s own Frida Kahlo painting. Browse #NMWAMakers on Twitter to see more creations.