Made in New York: Scott Alexander Scents
The former tech engineer casts scented candles in bronze the old-fashioned way.
The “lost wax” method, a metal-arts technique favored by sculptors for millennia, involves many painstaking, intricate steps—a process that’s familiar to Scott Baxter, a former tech engineer turned foundry owner. While he was designing doorknobs, latches, and other hardware for his own home, Baxter decided to build a foundry “from the ground up, because I found that the industry was lacking creativity due to limitations in manufacturing.” SA Baxter, his high-end hardware company, is now highly sought after by decorators and architects sourcing the perfect finishing touches for projects worldwide.
But Baxter isn’t one to rest on his laurels. At the foundry, in upstate Chester, New York, he has recently embarked on producing a line of refillable bronze-vessel candles, called Scott Alexander Scents, inspired by his travels around the world. At the start, he and his team designed 34 vessels from 100 concepts, “10 of which are in the market today,” says Baxter, who is also an avid collector of bronze sculpture. “With the capability of the foundry, we were able to take the candles to a higher level.”
Each candle begins with a digitally designed metal mold into which molten wax is poured to create a hollow copy of the end result. Once the form is removed from the mold and dried, wax cylinder “feet” are melted to the bottom of the vessel and then attached to a treelike structure which allows molten bronze to flow through via a ceramic cup affixed to the top. “Bronze is popular with sculptors because it pours and casts well,” Baxter comments, “and although it’s more expensive than other steels and alloys, it’s completely recyclable.” The attached wax copies are dipped into a ceramic slurry, then a sand-like stucco, and left to dry, after which they are placed cup-down in a kiln, which hardens the coatings into a shell and melts away the wax, hence the name “lost wax.”
Next, molten bronze is carefully poured into the reheated shells by skilled workers in fire suits and then allowed to cool. The rough casting is revealed after being hammered away (its “feet” are removed with a lathe), and then it is sent for dipping and polishing. “Only 10 percent of our workers can polish the pieces without damaging them,” says Baxter. “It takes good old-fashioned practice and steady hands. Every stage is craftmanship.”
For the fragrances, Baxter sought out the best French noses in the business, with a mission of avoiding “overpowering, perfume-y smells that most people wouldn’t want in their homes.” A library of 300 scents ranging from wood to amber is now used for the sustainable, coconut-oil-based candles. The Out of Africa candle, for example, has notes of oud, whereas the Art Deco–inspired New York candle sports a scent “reminiscent of private clubs and dark lounges with a whiskey flavor in the air.” Even the wicks—flat, tightly woven cotton braid sourced in Germany—have been deeply considered. “It took almost six months to get three different sizes of candles wicked properly,” Baxter recounts, “since every time you change the fragrance oil, it impacts the burn as well as the size and shape of the wick. Everything about this process is a science.”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Made in Chester.