Finding The Sweet Spot Between Baking And Building

The Architectural Cake Contest takes a playful approach to the task of historic preservation, but ends up revealing that architecture is just the icing on top.

  • Edwardo Rhodes and his Bryan House Cake

    Image 1 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiller

    The 2012 Architectural Cake Contest winner Edwardo Rhodes with his first-prize entry, a model of Bryan House, on the Indiana University campus.

  • Chase and Amy in the kitchen

    Image 2 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Chase Martin and Amy Payne at home on the first day of their baking experiement.

  • moving on to icing in Chase and Amy's Kitchen

    Image 3 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Chase Martin takes directions from his wife Amy Payne as they embark on the icing stage.

  • three bowls of frosting

    Image 4 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Icing is being tinted to replicate shades of limestone, for Chase and Amy's ranch house cake.

  • children admiring cakes

    Image 5 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    Children admire Nancy Hiller's Haunted Bridge cake, and another representing a landscape wrecked by I-69 construction.

  • baker Sarah Schwabe cuts cake

    Image 6 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Baker Sarah Schwabe of Mitchell, Indiana created a pastry replica of the Taj Mahal.

  • taj mahal cake

    Image 7 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    The Taj Mahal was created by 20-year-old baker Sarah Schwabe, of Mitchell, Indiana.

  • downton abbey

    Image 8 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    Carrol Krause's cake represented Downton Abbey.

  • limestone ranch cake

    Image 9 of 19

    Photo: Carrol Krause

    Chase Martin and Amy Chase's entry, titled "History Begins at Home" was a tribute to the mid-century limestone ranch they recently purchased.

  • cake in shape of truss bridge

    Image 10 of 19

    Photo: Carrol Krause

    Nancy Hiller's interpretation of an 1880s metal truss bridge was covered in marzipan foliage.

  • filling station cake

    Image 11 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Nancy Hiestand's entry represented a historic filling station on Bloomfield Road that may be retrofitted as a visitors' center.

  • filling station

    Image 12 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    The details on Nancy Hiestand's "Filling Station" included gummy rope gas hoses and mini gummy coke bottles.

  • storefront on Kirkwood

    Image 13 of 19

    Photo: Carrol Krause

    Patricia Coleman created a replica of her West Kirkwood storefront.

  • cake of demolished landscape

    Image 14 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    This entry depicted the demolition of Harmony Hill by the construction of I-69.

  • carpenter's plane cake

    Image 15 of 19

    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    Jonas Longacre's Carpenter's Plane Cake was modeled on a vintage object.

  • loftman family admires cakes

    Image 16 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Guy and Connie Loftman admire the Taj Mahal, while their granddaughters get a closer look.

  • The Taj Mahal after having been eaten.

    Image 17 of 19

    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Sarah Schwabe's Taj Mahal cake was a popular favorite.

  • judges of cake contest

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    Photo: Nancy Hiestand

    The judges for the 2013 Architectural Cake Contest included Gayle Cook, Tommy Kleckner and Erica Sagon.

  • the cake contest winds up

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    Photo: Yael Ksander

    Inside the City Hall Atrium, the 2013 Architectural Cake Contest draws to a close.

What do cakes and old houses have in common?

The unlikely pairing that is the Old-House Expo and Architectural Cake Contest begs the question.  The second annual event, held May 11, 2013 in the Bloomington City Hall atrium, brought amateur bakers and tradespeople out of the woodwork for a day designed to raise awareness about historic preservation.

A joint effort of the Monroe County Historic Preservation Board of Review and the Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission, the contest was designed as an appealing complement to an informational forum for owners of historic properties.

Part of the local observance of National Preservation Month, the event offered exhibition space to local professionals in the business of restoring historic structures, along with organizations dedicated to the preservation of the local cultural heritage.  The cake contest assumed the role of the expo’s centerpiece.  Its display of eight historic structures or objects ranged from a carpenter’s plane to the Taj Mahal.

A Venerable Panel Of Judges

Judging the cakes on the criteria of overall appearance, taste, and faithfulness of representation were Gayle Cook, architectural historian, expert on domes, and ardent preservationist; Tommy Kleckner, Indiana Landmarks Western Regional Office Director; and Erica Sagon, a professional baker based in Bloomington, who writes for and edits Edible Indy magazine.

Historic preservation is all kind of tied up in the architecture, but really that’s really just the visible artifact that we can still see.  What we’re really looking at is the overall picture of heritage.

Such highly credentialed judges notwithstanding, the competition was mainly symbolic.  Indeed, each of the eight cakes entered won a prize–from the “Masterpiece” prize for author Carrol Krause’s Downton Abbey cake, to the “Mid-Century Modern” prize for a replica of a limestone ranch by Chase Martin and Amy Payne.

None of this year’s bakers entered a cake in the Professional category, although some entrants had quite a portfolio.  Edwardo Rhodes, winner of the inaugural competition last year, makes several elaborate wedding cakes a year and has won ribbons at the state fair.  College student Sarah Schwabe, 20, who’d never entered a cake contest, was inspired to create a massive model of the Taj Mahal.

“We saw the potential to attract the interest of young people,” explained Preservation Board chair Nancy Hiller, “the next generation.”

The Spirit Of Play

Judging from the number of children hovering around the cake display, waiting to sample these edible landmarks, the board’s goal was met.  Additionally, the contest seemed to inspire a childlike spirit in the entrants.

“To me, the opportunity to play with food is something you don’t get much as an adult,” admitted Nancy Hiestand, Program Manager for Historic Preservation for the City of Bloomington, “and I have often felt that I’m at an eighth-grade slumber party doing this.”  Hiestand’s team created a cake representing an old brick filling station on Bloomfield Road.

Rhodes, whose official title is Professor Emeritus in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU, would concur.  “The purpose of the cake is to be consumed, have fun.  And the nice thing about a cake is that other than pictures, when it’s over, it’s over.  It’s gone.”

And in that way, not at all akin to an old house, contended builder Chris Sturbaum, whose Golden Hands Construction Company was represented at the expo.  “I never think a house has to come down.  It usually can be restored and repaired and nurtured into the future.  That’s why I’m not confusing cake and houses.”

When A House Is Not Just A House

But houses might be considered just the icing on the cake in the larger enterprise of historic preservation.  While its most obvious business is in shingle and clapboard, the real focus of preservation extends beyond the buildings to broader cultural concerns, according to Chase Martin, cake designer and vice-chair of the county’s preservation board.

“It’s all kind of tied up in the architecture, but really that’s really just the visible artifact that we can still see.  We are concerned with understanding local communities that may not have endured, and preserving their stories.  What we’re really looking at is the overall picture of heritage.”

So perhaps these cakes–fey, pretty things born of the creative impulse and the spirit of play, and consumed in a matter of hours–serve as the most apt symbol for the preservationist’s endeavor, after all.  While we admire the before-and-after photographs of vintage structures that have been saved, isn’t it the life that existed within those walls–fugitive and intangible–that we’re really trying to get at?

Yaël Ksander

Raised in Alexandria, Virginia, Yael holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature. She joined WFIU in 2000, where she hosts music and talk programs, and produces features on artists, writers, musicians and other creative people for Artworks. Yael co-hosts A Moment of Science and writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History. She enjoys getting to know WFIU listeners--from those who submit commentaries for Speak Your Mind to those who provide the comments she reads on Saturday mornings.

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