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Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson

"The Gingerbread Man," made by Bill, Natalie, Ryan, Amelia and Kate Gladbach and Connie Derek, took first place in the group category at the 2017 GingerBread Jubilee.

Gingerbread art for the arts

Making their mark on an elaborate gingerbread sculpture involved every member of Natalie Gladbach’s family — even their dog.

As the children’s tale “The Gingerbread Man” unfolded to cover the Grant Pass family’s dining area, the Gladbach golden retriever curiously pawed at the spot. The dog’s claws carved grooves along the candy riverbank, actually adding to the aesthetic, says Natalie Gladbach,

Claw marks and all, the piece took first place in the group category at last year’s GingerBread Jubilee.

First-time participants, the Gladbach family so enjoyed the annual competition and fundraiser that they plan this year to submit two entries: one by Natalie, husband, Bill, 14-year-old son Ryan and Natalie’s mother, Connie Derek; and another in the student category by 8- and 12-year-old sisters Kate and Amelia.

“My kids are super into crafts,” says Natalie, a reading instructor for the Grants Pass school district. “I just like doing those extra creative projects with them.”

The creativity of local bakers has captivated crowds for more than 15 years of GingerBread Jubilees, a benefit for Craterian Performances. Dozens of entirely edible structures and scenes are auctioned to raise money supporting theatrical and musical events at downtown Medford’s Collier Center for the Performing Arts. The theater’s flagship fundraiser, the Jubilee generated about $290,000 last year, more than $1.5 million since its inception, says Craterian Development Director Aspen Droesch.

“In other words, the Craterian would not be here without the Jubilee.”

The 16th annual gala and auction ushers in the festivities Friday, Nov. 16, at the Collier, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Gingerbread entries take the spotlight during the community tour, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17-18, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the Collier. Admission is $3 per person.

Featuring live performances and festive foods and beverages, the tour has drawn more than 30,000 visitors eager to see architecture, iconic landmarks, farms, churches, landscapes and scenes from literature, movies, books, video games and other elements of pop culture — all elaborately rendered in gingerbread.

“It will be a Christmas full of fairies, fairy-tale creatures and adventures to mystical lands,” says Kali McKee, the Jubilee’s baker coordinator.

“The Three Little Pigs” fable inspires the Gladbach family’s group submission this year, while the Gladbach girls’ student piece draws from Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. Derek, who sculpts porcelain dolls as a hobby, fashions all the family’s gingerbread figurines, says Natalie Gladbach. For their 2017 efforts, the family won $500.

Last year’s Best in Show award and $1,000 prize went to Eagle Point resident Kate Sharbono, who has claimed the contest’s top honors in each of the two Jubilees she has entered. This year, Sharbono says she’s celebrating another Southern Oregon tradition, Shakespeare, with her entry, which she started planning in August.

“It’s something I think about all year,” says Sharbono, who manages Medford’s Red Lobster restaurant. “I tell everybody about it.”

The widespread appeal of holiday themes characterizes many Jubilees. In last year’s contest, “A Fairy Merry Christmas” earned frequent competitor and former Harry & David baker Shannon Haptonstall $250 and second-place honors in the adult category, behind Amy Knighton’s “A Woodland Fairy Tale” cottage perched beside a tranquil stream, which judges rewarded with $500. “Merry Santa” earned Gail Carpenter third place and $100 among adult bakers.

In 2017’s student category, Samantha Hyde and Madi and Jenna Shumway won first place and $500 for “Paradise Pier,” a colorful amusement-park scene with fountains, a roller coaster, Ferris wheel and carousel. Allie Rist’s “Safari” won second place among students and the $250 prize. Students Michael McCuen and Sean Donohue skated to third place and $100 on the merits of “Santa’s Rink.”

Behind the Gladbach family, last year’s mixed-age group winners were Christopher and Lana Hyde, whose “Snow Globes” won second place and $250. Dave Gray and family’s “Yule Love Yummies” won third place and $100.

For more information, call 541-779-3000 or see www.craterian.org/support-us/gingerbread-jubilee/

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

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