Teacher shows how to make all-natural gifts fit for a queen

By Stephanie Angelyn Casola scasola@oe.homecomm.net

Staff Writer / Eccentric and Observer Newspapers
Clarkston, Michigan
January 28, 1999

Teacher shows how to make all-natural gifts fit for a queen

Anton Anderssen considers himself a craftsman in the tradition of Martha Stewart-meets-Bill Nye -- The Science Guy.

And that description is right-on when it comes to folk crafts, such as candlemaking. The 38-year-old Warren resident combines his talent for creating beautiful and usable crafts with the scientific and historical background related to them by teaching a variety of folk art classes in the area.

He will present "Candlemaking" from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 30, at Sashabaw Middle School, 5565 Pine Knob Lane. Though that session is now full, Anderssen will return with "Candlemaking" at 7 p.m. Monday, March 8.

Dorothy Frank, adult enrichment supervisor at Clarkston Community Education, said that since the class was announced, "people are coming out of the woodwork."

Anderssen, an American Indian who grew up in Amish territory in central Indiana, has been crafting since as far back as he can remember. He said his ancestors have been making soap for the past 100 years, probably out of necessity.

"Our people made our own clothes and wouldn't think a thing of it," said Anderssen.

Now he has transferred those skills into an array of subjects for classes. In addition to candlemaking, he teaches soapmaking, silk scarf painting, dried flowers, floral arranging, how-to-make sock monkey dolls, and even genealogy. He works with community education programs, as well as four colleges and a university. It all started eight years ago when he began student teaching, for fun. It wasn't intended as a career move.

Anderssen moved to Michigan after accepting a position as a computer quality assurance analyst for what is now Daimler Chrysler Corp. Ten years later, Anderssen incurred some health problems. He has now begun teaching full-time, while pursuing an interdisciplinary doctorate in anthropology and law. His classes span the metro area from Brandon Township to St. Clair Shores to Ann Arbor. He teaches a class just about everyday, and his students range from 10-year-olds to senior citizens.

In teaching crafts, Anderssen is able to promote and educate students about Native American culture, he said. The herbs -- like sage, rosemary, and lavender -- which he uses in soaps, candles, lotions and deodorants are representative of his cultural heritage.

Some of the courses started as his own idea; others were brought about through interest and suggestion.

The candlemaking class began about two years ago when Madeline Kempa, Warren Consolidated Schools enrichment facilitator, noticed how interested her own children had become in candles. She proposed it might make a popular class. She mentioned it to Anderssen and they soon discovered she was right.

Anderssen said the class filled right up.

But when a student signs up for candlemaking, he or she will gain more than just a few hints about melting wax. Anderssen incorporates a great deal of scientific background into his classes. For example, he will teach his students about the origins of fire or the different categories of the electromagnetic spectrum which extend beyond visible light. But he also teaches the candlemaking basics.

Candles are made from a wax sludge, which is a byproduct of petroleum, he said. When wax is purchased wholesale, candles can be made for less than $1 each -- much cheaper than what some department and specialty stores charge, he said.

"They do make nice gifts," Kempa added.

Anderssen demonstrates how to make a votive candle in just minutes. It requires a metal tab, wick, melting wax and fragrance. He will trim a piece of wick that extends a few inches more than the length of the candleholder. By slipping the wick through the metal tab, he clamps the ends of the tab over the knot to secure it. A pipe cleaner may be used to hold the wick upright as the wax is slowly poured in. Wax, which is heated on a hot plate, is poured as it melts until the holder is nearly full. If the wax gets too hot on the hot plate, it will reduce in size, he said.

Then, essential oils and scents are added. Anderssen suggests adding one-fourth teaspoon of scent to a votive. He prefers scents on the stronger side, he said, because the effects of aromatherapy are stronger. As a rule of thumb, he said one-half ounce of fragrance will scent about four pounds of wax.

The candle will take about 15 minutes to set. Children as young as 10 can do it, said Anderssen. Colors are added to candles by using broken crayons or wax chips.

No rules apply when it comes to choosing a scent or combining different ones, he said. He just mixes in whatever he likes. But, due to his knowledge of aromatherapy and different uses associated with scents, Anderssen might create a candle with citrus fragrance -- like orange, lemon, or grapefruit -- in the winter. They tend to have antidepressant, refreshing qualities. In the summer months, Anderssen said, he may be more prone to choosing lavender because it is readily available in his garden and has a calming effect on a hot day.

Unlike candlemaking, soapmaking is more labor-intensive, said Anderssen. It can take about one month to complete. It involves switching the molecules in oils, using caustic substances and producing a precise chemical reaction. Anderssen will be teaching soapmaking in Brandon Township's Community Education program Feb. 23.

"There isn't a class he can't teach," said Kempa. "He's very creative. He makes his own clothes. He put out a cookbook and a CD."

Kempa considers Anderssen to be a "versatile" individual. At one point he was teaching so many classes that he had a designated section in the brochure called "Anton's Attic."

"In one word, Anton is unique," said Kempa. "His students do like him. He's very knowledgeable ... very resourceful."

Frank also said Anderssen has a vast knowledge. She has received many compliments from his former students, she said.

Anderssen is also a concert pianist and travel agent. He teaches courses in "Making it in Music" and "Travel Bargains" for others with similar interests. Clarkston-area residents can keep an eye out for those classes in the coming months.

Sharon Pray Muir, professor of education at Oakland University, has taken the travel course and considers Anderssen to be a good instructor.

"He really helps people with different ways to budget their travel," she said. "He gives lots of hints. He's a very talented person in lots of areas."

Anderssen said he enjoys teaching.

"I like sharing my knowledge with students," he said. "It gives me an opportunity to really educate them."

The reason behind teaching classes is much more than the melding of his experience with art and science; Anderssen gives his students skills that can make them economically independent. He said that seeing former students sell their work at craft shows is rewarding.

"I'm very proud to see my students become successful," he said.

Lee Padula, a Livonia psychologist, has taken several courses with Anderssen. Learning everything from how to travel on a budget to the basics of aromatherapy, Padula called Anderssen an "innovative" instructor who has a good rapport with his students.

"He's so multi-faceted," said Padula. "He can teach one course and shift gears to go to a totally different course. He's a very well-rounded individual."

Padula said the classes are so much fun, they could be viewed as a night out.

But it's not just his ability to teach that brings students back. And they're not the only individuals who have tried the all-natural products Anderssen creates.

"My products are enjoyed by royalty," he said, naming Princess Caroline of Monaco and the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg as two individuals who have received his products.

"I thought that what I made was fit for a queen," said Anderssen.

He has received thank-you letters from the likes of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Princess Marie of Liechtenstein. Neither royal nor political status is required to become a student. Just check his Web site for more information at http://members.aol.com/classfun.

Prices and class availability may vary.