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Children's Museum Exhibit Features 320 Gingerbread Houses

It took Jon Lovitch a combined 800 hours over 10 months to create and build the more than 300 gingerbread houses that are on display at the Children's Museum, in West Hartford.

A New York-based chef, Lovitch's gingerbread house work is a full time job these days. His GingerBread Lane project started as a 12-house display in 1994, and has turned into a display that in the past has reached 1,000 gingerbread houses.

With the hours needed to complete the several custom-made displays he creates by himself by hand each year, there's simply just not enough time in the day for Lovitch to continue as a chef. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Lovitch has worked in different parts of the country, often times as a chef at various hotels. Gingerbread has won out, though.

"I just call myself a gingerbread artist these days," Lovitch said. "I really liked the reaction people had to it in 1994. I would notice people taking pictures of it. People loved it right off the bat and I enjoyed that feeling. It was really euphoric."

His work has been seen at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the New York Hall of Science, and at various locations across Pittsburgh. It's coming to West Hartford as part of a new gingerbread forest exhibit at the Children's Museum. Other GingerBread Lane exhibits this year will be on display in New York, Orlando, and Baltimore.

Lovitch was at the Children's Museum from Nov. 12 through Nov. 17, traveling back and forth with gingerbread houses in tow to the museum from his New York City home each day, making sure everything in his display was ready for the Nov. 18 public opening. The exhibit will be open through Jan. 14.

"Children's museums are a great setting for these," Lovitch said. "At shopping centers and casinos, people aren't interested at all. At the museum, it becomes a teaching moment. It's got baking, the science of urban planning, the math that goes into the baking process. There are a lot of educational opportunities. It's a great environment to be in."

And the math is staggering. The display at the Children's Museum, which was built specifically for it, required 225 pounds of dough, 720 pounds of icing, 310 pounds of candy, and 20 pounds of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. There are 575 candy canes, 1,000 sticks of cinnamon gum, and 3,500 jelly beans. All together, it creates a village of gingerbread houses that takes up more than 295 square feet.

Lovitch approached the museum officials with the prospect of building a display for them. Beth Weller, the museum's director of operations, said they sent two employees to see the display in New York. They determined it fit within their mission to educate.

"It's something unique for us," Weller said. "We'll be doing some science-related programming on our busier days. There's science, art, engineering, math all put into this. It fits our mission well and it brings an art form to us. Our museum has always been very science focused. We look to partners and collaborators to bring art into our museum."

With so many houses and other gingerbread creations needed to fill out and complete the project, inspiration is needed. Lovitch might find that in his day-to-day life or through watching movies.

"Most of it just pops into my head," Lovitch said. "A lot of them, I'll see things that interest me for whatever reason, and I'll steal that architectural idea. I draw a lot of inspirations from children's cartoons. There's a lot of 1800s type stuff because I feel the holidays always harken back to Charles Dickens' London."

Making the switch from chef to ful time gingerbread artist made sense for Lovitch, because he considers it a more rewarding venture, despite the job taking up more hours than being a chef did. When all that work is done, the results are satisfying.

"It's a much better payoff in the end," Lovitch said. "It's the intangible stuff. The lasting indelible image it gives someone is awesome. As a chef, I can make a great dinner, that somebody may remember. At some point, they will forget it. This lasts in your memory longer. It's a good feeling."

When all four displays are up and running in December, Lovitch gets a little downtime. But work will begin again soon for the gingerbread artist in a month and a half when he gets to work on 2018's displays. He looks back on each year's series of displays with appreciation.

"The payoff is that I will stand there on a busy day in December and 30 or 40 people will pass by in a matter of minutes," Lovitch said. "They'll be taking pictures of it and point at things. That's a great feeling, knowing you are the one who created that euphoric feeling people are having. Seeing people that happy and enjoying your work, it's something you can't quantify."

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