Observers are often so intrigued by Ginny Pilarz’ gingerbread houses that they absent-mindedly bend down to open a gate, touch a gabled roof or peek inside a window.
The Mission woman never gets tired of watching others smile when they see her latest piece. For decades Pilarz has turned out elaborate gingerbread creations – several Victorian mansions, a Belvedere gazebo, French Chateau, Faberge egg and many others. While much of her work is high-end art, Pilarz also creates more typical cottages lined with gumdrops, peppermints and M&M’s.
“It’s a wonderful medium for me,” the 72-year-old said.
Her work has been featured in books and magazines including Good Housekeeping, which once awarded her second place in their coveted competition. Pilarz, a pastry chef, sells her work but she also regularly donates the high-dollar pieces to charity. Her work is on display nearly every year at Gingerbread Lane, which benefits the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired.
“The Lord just gave me a gift,” she said.
Friends point out her generous heart.
“I think she’s incredibly talented and extremely generous with her talent and just really a delightful person,” said Sandi Russell, co-owner of Twisted Sisters Coffee Shop.
Pilarz, who has decorated cakes for 40 years, starts by building a 3D model from scrap paper. Beginning with the door, she slowly assembles a masterpiece out of gingerbread, icing and candy. She carefully considers every archway and porch. Weather vanes, cupolas and dormers are added only if it blends with the period architecture.
Pilarz illuminates some of her pieces to make it feel like the homeowner is inside. She tucks a Christmas tree inside the prominent window, where she envisions the family would place it. The great grandmother contemplates precisely how the snow would haphazardly fall on evergreen trees and bushes. If there’s a front gate, she tries to make it work. Balconies must have doors leading inside.
“If I close that off how are they going to get in?” she once asked her husband.
“They?” he responded.
She laughs knowing she can obsess about seemingly small details. But Pilarz, who also sells handmade scarves at Twisted Sisters Coffee Shop and makes rosaries with friends from St. Pius X in Mission, designs her pieces to last a lifetime.
This fall Pilarz once again put her friends on notice when the inspiration came for Gingerbread Lane.
“Ladies, I won’t see you.”
Every fall she spends eight to ten hours a day for one to two months creating the house. This year she constructed a castle based on a character – Steorra Queen of the Stars – that Pilarz created for the Renaissance Festival. She even dressed in costume and entertained the children and Gingerbread Lane shoppers with this explanation of her gingerbread castle.
Pilarz doesn’t know what she’ll design next year but don’t expect her to stop anytime soon. She’s having too much fun.
“I’m 72 and I’m going to do what makes me happy and what makes other people happy,” she said.