Sunday, November 21, 2010
The toughest part about assembling a gingerbread house, says Amy Wilson, is coming up with an idea.
"I am always looking for ideas," says Wilson. "Something totally out of the blue will strike me."
A magazine cover for instance. Each year Wilson scours the November issue of Good Housekeeping, or she consults a friend of hers who is an artist, searching for inspiration, before she starts her project. Wilson has been participating in Eldridge Hotel's Gingerbread Festival and Auction for the past 15 years. And this year will be no different. The event launches on Dec. 4 at Eldridge Extended, 201 W. Eighth St., where ticket purchasers will stroll the rooms and view the gingerbread creations. The cost is $40, and the auction is on Dec. 8.
Last year's fundraiser netted $34,381, all of which went to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the event's beneficiary. Typically the fundraiser fetches between $25,000 to $35,000, depending on the health of the economy.
Builders are split into two categories: grahams for children and gingerbread for adults.
"Many of the same builders have done it every year for us," says Diane Fry, chair of the auction-planning committee. "Every year they get more and more elaborate."
There have been White House replicas, a miniature Empire State Building, an Eiffel Tower. One year there was an imitation of Allen Fieldhouse. And last year there was an identical model of the house that is hoisted up by hot air balloons in the movie "Up."
The houses yank in anywhere from $500 to $2,000 apiece. Wilson's house from last year, which featured a heart-shaped theme, pulled in $1,600.
"The price tag doesn't follow the size of the house," says Fry. "It's not always the large ones that go for the most money."
Bobbie Flory has a rule: make it fit on the dining room table.
She likes her houses to be small enough for a living room display, and she has followed this guideline for three years. Gingerbread architecture, she says, is an evolutionary process. Her houses grow more detailed and ornate every time she builds one.
"Each year I think I have improved my skill," says Flory. "I would encourage that anyone who wants to try it to do it. I'm certainly not an artist, and all skill levels are embraced."
Flory layered her first house heavily with candy: gum drops, ribbon candy, butterscotch lozenges. Now she focuses on the colors and textures of her houses, keeping her designs relatively simple.
Wilson also rarely strays far from her original design. She likes to stick to a small house or a church or chapel. Her tools are simple: an X-Acto knife and a ruler. And her supplies are meager, but variable: Jordan almonds, sugar-coated Wheat Thins, Shredded Wheat, Jolly Ranchers and, most importantly, gingerbread. One year she coated the gingerbread walls with an egg yoke wash and sprinkled it with glitter so her house would have luster.
"I wanted it to sparkle that year," she says.
Wilson is also known to melt down Jolly Ranchers and brush the goo where a window could go to create a stained-glass window effect common in chapels and churches.
Wilson sticks to tradition, and this makes her houses easy to spot.
"I change them very little," Wilson says. "You could pick my house out in a second."