Making candles, music and art

Nov 10, 2021

In part three of his contributing article, Newman alumnus James R. Macias ’81, shares about the hobbies he’s racked up during retirement, including candle making, music and art.

Read Part I: Into the Great Wide Open – Navigating Retirement Without a Compass

Read Part II: A little wine, reading and writing

I’ve become a candle-maker of sorts, which on the surface is not complicated, as one need only fuse paraffin or plant-based wax, insert a wick, odorants, and colorants to one’s desire and allow it to solidify in a suitable container. That said, there exists a myriad of different styles and techniques within this craft for enhancing the final product and widening one’s repertoire.

Jim Macias in South Dakota — the last of his 50 states to be visited!
Jim Macias in South Dakota — the last of his 50 states to be visited!

As for the containers, here I return to my youth, manually cutting the glass from spent wine and olive oil bottles, beer bottles, jars and the like.

In junior high school, circa 1973, I cut many a bottle using a crude apparatus purchased from the Ronco Corporation. Readers from older generations may recall Ronco founder Ron Popiel and his “Pocket Fisherman” or perhaps the “Chop-o-Matic,” among many inventions and direct to consumer marketing gimmicks. These early efforts often resulted in craggy and splintered glass pieces fit solely for the trash heap, and a few sliced fingers owing to my indifferent approach to safety.

Presently I have a much superior glass cutting device, which is quite affordable and safer to operate than Mr. Popiel’s original.


Participation in music and the graphic arts is on the horizon, and at least for the former I may be able to dredge up rudimentary skills that have been dormant for several years. In the summer following high school oldest brother Ramon gifted me one of his old guitars and taught me a few chords.

Entering Newman as a freshman in 1977 I took a music appreciation course taught by local guitar aficionado and fretted-instrument store owner Tom Olivier. Classes were held in the old building sitting on the grounds of what is now the beautiful De Mattias Fine Arts Center.

Scented paraffin candles
Scented paraffin candles

Tom was a fine instructor and a prince of a guy, and very patient in the face of the glacial progress I was making learning the art of finger style folk guitar. By the end of two semesters, however, I wasn’t completely awful, having acquired enough skill to play several tunes, a few of them perhaps even a bit pleasing to the ear.

Toward the end of the mentorship he sold me a good quality six string guitar at an equitable price, and with the new axe I had aspirations of becoming an accomplished guitarist. However being really good at something requires considerable and sustained effort, which wasn’t my strong suit in the late 70s. I learned to play several uncomplicated songs, primarily three-chord progressions, often performing these tunes on the back patio of my parents’ house with a few bottles of Coors nearby.

Despite the efforts and best intentions of Ramon and Tom I did not develop skills beyond what might be classified as “advanced beginner,” but I’m presently in the market for a new guitar with perhaps a renewed sense of enthusiasm and commitment.

Graphic arts

Quite recently I signed up for drawing lessons, which begin later this summer at an art studio conveniently located within walking distance of our residence.

Deb and Jim Macias with great-nephews Sam and Jack at Devil’s Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado.

Earlier this year while visiting a gallery in downtown Loveland with friends, I found myself examining closely the still life paintings and drawings on display. Apparently the thoughts in my head inadvertently became audible as I pondered how it was possible to so deftly capture light in the various objects within the pieces.

The gallery owner approached, handing me a piece of paper with a name and phone number.

“The artist’s work you are admiring is local, well-respected and offers lessons to those so inclined.”

Ultimately this activity may be a nonstarter leading to an abrupt dead end. But it’s worth a punt and is just the sort of random episode that appeals to me at this stage of life. Minimal planning required.

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