Ann Bailey: A Legend in the Baking

Gingerbread artist Ann Bailey, pictured with her
Gingerbread artist Ann Bailey, pictured with her "gingerkids."
Bailey meticulously removes crumbs from the gingerbread house using a dry brush.
Bailey meticulously removes crumbs from the gingerbread house using a dry brush.
Cary’s Ashworth Drugs is fastidiously recreated in miniature form, down to the store hours and flyers in the window. Bailey’s detail and expert craftsmanship is evident in all of her creations.
Cary’s Ashworth Drugs is fastidiously recreated in miniature form, down to the store hours and flyers in the window. Bailey’s detail and expert craftsmanship is evident in all of her creations.

Most of us have tried our hand at building gingerbread houses — probably from holiday-themed box kits at the grocery store — but almost 20 years ago, Cary resident Ann Bailey moved from the world of cutouts to cutthroat competitions and has never looked back.

For our longtime readers, Bailey’s name might ring a bell — she was featured in an article titled “Sweet Ambitions” almost a decade ago, commemorating her win at Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread Competition in 2014. Since then, Bailey has become a celebrity in the gingerbread world — collecting more national titles, teaching classes to people from across the country, and appearing on major network TV shows.

“Following the win in 2014, I did not enter in 2015 or 2016. I usually take long breaks from it because it’s so time consuming,” said Bailey. “I wasn’t going to enter in 2017, but I was approached by the Food Network. They wanted to follow me and four other ladies in the competition for an episode called Gingerbread Giants, so I agreed to that. Fortunately, I won that year.”

Being approached by the Food Network was truly a full-circle moment for Bailey, who first discovered the competition when it was aired on the channel back in 2005.

“The more I watched it, the more I thought, I can do that. So I decided to enter that year,” recalled Bailey, always up for a challenge.

One year later, Bailey signed up to compete in the 2006 National Competition — go big or go home!

Much like Santa, Bailey has a workshop — her kitchen! Utilizing cabinets, drawers, and plentiful counter space, gingerbread creations come to life.

“I did not do very well,” admitted Bailey with a laugh. “I had never made gingerbread in my life. I didn’t even like gingerbread. It was just a first for me, but then there was that thing of me having to master it. So I did it consecutively for seven years. I got into the top 10 in the second year, and stayed in the top 10 until 2009, when I took 2nd. My first win was not until 2012, and from that point on it seems like I just kept winning. It’s amazing to me; it really is. Very humbling.”

Bailey won her first national title in 2012 with The Three Wise Men, followed by a win in 2014 with a chess set creation called Pawn Stars. In 2017 she won with The Three Ghosts, inspired by the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Bailey edged out the competition just last year with a Peter Pan-themed piece titled When Dreams Have Wings.

“It’s really funny — and I didn’t realize this until shortly after — but I have won during the competition’s 20th, 25th, and 30th anniversaries,” said Bailey. “So I’ll just wait and go back for the 35th!”

Although Bailey uses her kitchen for her creations, her design process is more akin to an architect than a baker.

“Because I’m so meticulous, I start very early,” said Bailey. “I can’t enter until July when registration opens, but I actually start in January. I come up with the idea, and I build on the idea over time. I sketch it out on a piece of paper, and then I go on my computer, design it, and build a prototype. The prototype gives me my dimensions, proportions, and my symmetry, so when I go to build the gingerbread piece, I have all my measurements right there. It’s at least two or three months before I start the gingerbread.”

Much like an architect, Bailey sketches out her ideas, designs them on a computer, and builds a prototype

Every win comes with a $7,500 check, a trophy, and a prize package from The Omni Grove Park Inn that includes a two-night stay at the hotel — but that’s not why Bailey does it.

“Gingerbread brings so many wonderful people together,” said Bailey. “I’ve made tons of friends. I have big classes that I teach with people from all over the country, and they all fly in or drive in, and we share techniques and recipes and secrets and just have fun.”

Bailey’s classes are held at various locations throughout the year, and approximately 80% of her students are competing or planning to compete in the national competition. Information about classes and workshops can be found on Bailey’s Facebook group, The Art of Gingerbread.

Locally, Bailey enjoys judging the Town of Cary’s Annual Gingerbread House Competition. This year, participants of all ages will display their eye candy in select downtown businesses from Dec. 2–9. For competitors looking for advice, Bailey has one word for you: perseverance.

“Just stick with it,” said Bailey. “Quitting is something that a lot of people have done in gingerbread, because they think they can’t be that good. Hey, I wasn’t good either when I first started! But you can be. You can build the skill. If you quit, you’re not going to win.”

With so many wins under her belt, as well as appearances on HGTV, the Food Network, and the Travel Channel, we asked Bailey to name her most exciting venture to date.

“An interview with Cary Magazine, of course,” said Bailey. “Seriously, I’m honored. We’ve been in Cary for about 26 years, and we love it. We would not live anywhere else.”

Bailey’s love for the town is as deeply rooted as Ashworth Drugs in downtown Cary. This full-service pharmacy, complete with an old-fashioned soda fountain, is beloved by residents young and old. When we approached Bailey about designing a Cary-themed gingerbread house, Ashworth Drugs was a shoe-in.

“All of us at Ashworth Drugs are thrilled and honored to have been chosen by nationally recognized gingerbread house artist Ann Bailey for her latest project,” said owner Paul Ashworth. “Our store has stood like a beacon on the corner in downtown Cary for the past 92 years, welcoming locals and newcomers alike. We are certainly impressed with Ann’s artistry, and very pleased that she recognizes the historical importance of our store as a community gathering spot.”

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