Creative Spaces: E.J. McIntyre, Gingerbread Builder

Missing Event Data
WHAT: Gingerbread Extravaganza

WHEN: now through December 23
WHERE: Old St. Andrews Church (317 A Philip Randolph Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32202)

TICKETS: suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children at the door



Although she’s an award-winning gingerbread builder, E.J. McIntyre is not exceptionally competitive. The retired computer programmer enjoys admiring her fellow Gingerbread Extravaganza competitors’ edible creations much more than the competition itself. “I love seeing everyone’s creativity,” she says. “There are a lot of really talented people there.”

McIntyre set the bar incredibly high for herself when she built the Jacksonville Beach lifeguard station in miniature for her first Gingerbread Extravaganza competition in 2010. It was the first gingerbread structure she’d ever created. Over the past seven years, she’s developed a reputation for her entries to the Extravaganza’s Historical Buildings category. In addition to the lifeguard station, she’s constructed edible miniature versions of Henry Klutho’s St. James Building (now known as Jacksonville’s City Hall) and Taylor Hardwick’s Haydon Burns Library (now the Jesse Ball duPont Center). McIntyre utilizes the Jacksonville Historical Society’s archive of photographs and information when miniaturizing historical buildings. She also employs her father’s old drafting ruler to determine size and scale. “It’s hard to think in 3D,” she says.

Before she began working with gingerbread, McIntyre baked elaborate cakes. She developed her baking and decorating skill sets by watching programs on television. Her urge to create has always been present—on a trip to the Smithsonian as a child, a dollhouse exhibit inspired her. “I’m always trying to make that intricate detail that I saw in those miniatures,” she says. “They got to do it with wood and glass. I’m trying to do it with edible materials.”

This year, McIntyre has developed two new designs for the Extravaganza. She’s constructed Memorial Park’s iconic C. Adrian Pillars Life sculpture—commonly referred to as Winged Victory among locals—entirely out of gingerbread. McIntyre’s husband, Tony, conceptualized her second entry, which depicts their dog, Taffy, constructing a gingerbread house of her own. All of McIntyre’s designs are personal to her and Tony.

With the assistance of her 27-year-old oven, McIntyre cranks out pounds of gingerbread every year. She utilizes a gingerbread recipe that’s designed for construction, which eliminates egg yolks and calls for more flour and less butter than a traditional cookie recipe. “Most of the good stuff gets left out,” she says, “so it gets rock hard.”

McIntyre assembles her structures at her kitchen table on the Southside, where light pours through the windows. Once the structures are complete, she coats them with clear lacquer, allowing her to showcase her hard work through the ages. These days, it takes her about a month to create each structure, though she’s gotten much faster at building through years of practice—her 2010 lifeguard station took her five months to construct. Still, she always works until the last minute, perfecting her entries’ details on the first day of the Extravaganza.

Don’t miss the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Gingerbread Extravaganza this holiday season. The gingerbread structures will be on display at Old St. Andrews Church (317 A Philip Randolph Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32202) through December 23. A suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children benefits local historical education and historic preservation programs.

About Hurley Winkler