Pam lives in Austria. A few months ago, she bundled up for a trip to Spital Am Pyhrn, a small village in central Austria. For unbeknownst reasons, they had recreated the town entirely in gingerbread. The photos are here.
Gingerbread has limitations as a medium. It is flat, dull brown, fairly brittle, and while it shrinks little in baking, the edges blur with the addition of frosting. Of the traditionally feminine arts of baking, it is masculine in its angularity and overtly architectural representations. The masters of Spital Am Pyhrn embrace the possibilities of the medium, without destroying that which makes it unique. The same could not be said of the American example.A quick search on Google, uniformly show the failures of Americans in the realm of gingerbread houses. Here is Tim. Tim is a college student, and as you can see in this picture, demonstrates the failure of American education. Odds are he is Christian, as it seems that using graham crackers and marshmallow fluff to create speedy slums is an inspired and popular fellowship activity for young Christians. When they go on next year about taking the Christ out of Christmas, do well to recall that they are content in consumer shortcuts and are taking the gingerbread out of the house. Equally troubling, is the trend of obliterating those things that define the medium in a sugary glaze of colored denial. Unlike the villagers of Spital Am Pyhrn, who never once ask you to imagine beyond the obvious, “This is a replica of my house in dull gingerbread”, the American trend of uber-realism or dainty fantasy is troubling. This example, purporting to be a model of a pre-Katrina Louisiana home, could be built out of plastic. While it is expressive, it denies the heritage, tradition and the materiality of gingerbread. In its considered display of cake decorating skill, it destroys that which makes it a gingerbread house.
I’m not one to slander others. Having never worked in the medium, it crossed my mind that recreating our 1960’s apartment complex would be both challenging artistically, and while embracing the art form, would push it into new, uncharted directions. The road from concept to construction was long and winding. After doing a photographic study of the building, I created a prototype.
Using a recipe found online, it took a batch and a half to get the necessary slabs. Several failures should be noted: it was impossible to cut slabs to size after they were baked, even using an exacto, as they shattered. The dough did not shrink or change shape much, but many of my edges should have been straighter, and any slight distortion became magnified in the baking process.
The final result, while undeniably The Concorde of Green Street in Brookline, is embarrassingly poor. Mind you, it is almost two feet long and over a foot high. In scope, I have nothing to be ashamed about: I did not resort to graham crackers and fellowship, I only cursed while constructing it, and while not obviously edible, it is clearly gingerbread smashed together with frosting.
Still, next to the many homes, farms, and church of Spital Am Pyhrn, one can only cringe.
There’s just something wrong with gingerbread called “spittle”. However it’s spelled.