Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eatable Architecture

How do you take this old picture of the Carson Mansion in Eureka, CA and.........

....turn it into this?

It's the work of one man. John Learner of Stow,Ohio.

I spotted some pictures of this creation on the Martha Stewart Message boards. My jaw dropped.

What impressed me more was that it was a guy... Despite what some people think we men are capable of creative thought. I contacted John and got permission to show some of the pictures of his work and ask a few questions of this master builder. He has taken first place in every competition so he truly deserves the title of master builder.

Who doesn't like Victorian houses?!
1. How did you get started Making gingerbread Houses?

8 years ago I started a father-daughter project to use up all of the leftover candy and food that no one would eat, had gotten stale, nobody liked, so it wouldn't have to be thrown away. We had leftover pop tarts, old cereal, Halloween candy, Easter candy, old tins of popcorn, etc. I made a cardboard house to make it easy for the girls to visualize the end product, and we just started gluing food and candy decorations on it using hot glue and royal icing. The result was amusing and spectacular. I took it to work, and showed it off for a month during the Christmas season because my wife didn't want to see it around home. Everyone liked it so much, I decided to save it to use as a Christmas decoration every year and to add a new one every year so I would eventually have a village. Now I have 8.
When I had four houses in my village, people suggested that I enter them into contests. The next year, my dad sent me an ad from the Cleveland paper announcing a competition at the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. I registered and entered and won first place. And now I have won first place 4 years in a row. They have a very nice competition and a nice facility. Their competition rules are reasonable. I've checked out other competitions, and found that many of them are fund raisers where the houses are sold off. I want to keep my houses, so I don't enter those competitions. The national competition is at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville NC, but I don't want to make two round-trips that far, so I don't enter that one.

2.Do you use gingerbread?

Yes. The Kent Victorian weighs 65 lbs, which is mostly solid gingerbread. The St. Ignatius weighs 85 lbs, which is mostly gingerbread. The Carson house has only 10 lbs of gingerbread, as decoration.

3. Do you use royal icing as your glue??

Yes, and hot glue.

4. Do you start with some sort of practice model?

No. I take an 8x 10 photo of the house and draw lines on it to make a graph over it. Then with a ruler, I transfer it to the real gingerbread house. A standard gingerbread house uses a single piece of gingerbread for each wall, with icing at the corners. I prefer to layer my gingerbread like plywood and make thick walls, layered like a stack of pancakes. It takes a lot of gingerbread, but you now have a strong structural wall that you can carve deep into for windows, doors, and details. A lot of the work is tedious, like unwrapping 700 sticks of chewing gum and carving a scalloped edge on each one. Or sanding candy cigarettes down until they're flat and thin to use as window frames.

5. You obviously try to copy the real structure as best you can. do you use just photos as your reference material?

Yes, just one or two photos is all it takes.

6. What are some of the most unique candy /food items that you use?

Swedish fish, cherry lifesavers, ring pops, ice cream cones, chewing gum, twizzlers, pop tarts, hard tack candy, jolly ranchers, candy cigarettes, fettuccine noodles. Never use chocolate; it distorts over time. (M&Ms pop. Hershey kisses explode like jiffy pop over time.) Pop tarts are a better building material than they are as food. They can be mitered, beveled, tongue-and-grooved, and they come with icing on them that looks like snow. So they're good for roofs. I used M&Ms and Hershey kisses on my first house, and after a couple years, the chocolate turned to powder and made a dusty mess on my house, which i tried to vacuum off. Don't ever vacuum up chocolate dust! The dust turns back into chocolate in the hot motor and ruins your vacuum. I had to clean the dust off with my leaf-blower. Don't use chocolate wafer cookies; they look good, but they separate into layers after several years.
I go to candy stores looking for colors and shapes, something that will work as pillars and window frames. It's hard to find candy that looks like doors. I mentioned to you about HirstArts.com and the molds you can buy there. They sure help with the fine detail, although the scale isn't always accurate.

7. How long does a house the size of your Carson Mansion take to complete?

Carson took me 6 months in my spare time. St. Ignatius took 6 months. Both would have taken longer if I was the one baking the gingerbread, but I barter for my gingerbread from a baker I know.

8. Did you have an interest in Architecture before you started making gingerbread houses? Your creation suggest a understanding of geometry and model making.

Yes, who doesn't like Victorian houses?! My real hobby is making model ships. I'm working on my sixth one.

9. Where do you get you inspiration from?

They are fun and easy to make.

10. Do you have any other creation in the works?

I have, in my head, plans to make the Flatiron Building on 23rd & Broadway, and Stan Hywet Hall in Akron OH, and a traditional German building.
Here is John with his St. Ignatius creation. Truly a wonder! Then some pitures of several of his works on display for competition.

Thank you John for allowing me to share these with my readers. It truly is a work of candy art. Keep up the good work and we look forward to seeing your next creations. What better way to celebrate the Christmas season than with my two favorite things. Candy and Architecture. Eatable Architecture.
Good Job John!
Merry Christmas To ALL....


Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

WOW. These are incredible! My jaw dropped as I looked through the photos.

Who knew Pop Tarts were good for building material? Or that you should never try to vacuum chocolate dust?

Thanks for introducing us to an artist like John. Great interview, Derek!

Destination Seaborn said...

Wow! That's simply amazing! TFS and Merry Christmas! ~Lisa

myrrhmaid319 said...

THAT is what the magic of Christmas is! I remember my mother taking such simple things and making magic with them. Candles glowing under glass, a little ribbon and fresh picked greenery. The smells, the smiles, the sighs, the laughter, the reflection of past joys! Thank-you, for a moment I relived the past!