Behind the Scenes at ED: Candlemaker Janie Korn’s Illuminating Art

Bebe Howorth
Photo credit: Philip Friedman
Photo credit: Philip Friedman

From ELLE Decor

To help celebrate the 10th anniversary of ELLE Decor’s annual A-List of the top interior designers from around the world, ED commissioned a portrait of every person on the list—125 firms strong, encompassing 145 people in all. But these are not just any designers, and as such, these are not just any portraits—to fully capture the talents that shine the brightest, we asked candle artist Janie Korn to craft a “candle portrait” of each designer.

“With this project, it was thrilling to breathe life into these portraits, and it was even more thrilling when I could research all of the designers and see the incredible work they’ve created,” Korn says.

Photo credit: Philip Friedman
Photo credit: Philip Friedman

Based in Manhattan’s West Village, Korn initially worked in ceramics before turning to wicks and wax as her chosen art form last year. So far Korn’s candle sculptures have been featured in society weddings, at more than one birthday party, and even on two album covers. And this was not her first foray into the world of interior design—Korn created a series of famous furniture pieces in candle form, including the floral sofa from The Golden Girls, and a candle of the James McNeill Whistler painting known as “Whistler’s Mother” for the Brooklyn-based design studio Fredericks & Mae.

Each candle takes about two hours to make, as Korn transforms it from a ball of wax to a human head. After the wax has been poured and cooled within a mold, she then tempers it to build the most notable features of a person; Korn always has to consider whether it is the curvature of a nose or a heavy eyebrow that makes a person look like him or herself. Then, the artist mixes burnable pigment with wax to paint the candle and bring it to life. “This is when I can see if all of the molding and carving were worth it and figure out if the piece is coming together,” she says, “or if I need to crumple it up and start over.”

Photo credit: Janie Korn
Photo credit: Janie Korn

When all 145 candles were complete, Korn let out a huge sigh of relief—and grief. “The artist’s life is very lonely, further exacerbated by quarantine, so for one brief moment, I was in a room filled with 145 smiling faces,” she says. “That is truly joy.”

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