Christmastime display 'labor of love,' designers say

Earlier this month before Mississippi State students finished final exams and headed home for the holidays, something special at the university's Mitchell Memorial Library was reminding them that Christmastime was here.

In addition to the large, brightly adorned tree at the entryway, there was another seasonal display drawing even more attention--and eye-popping admiration.

Though only a small fraction of the tree's size, the gingerbread replica of the library itself represented a labor of love by two library staff members who delighted in the opportunity to think outside the bakery box. What Bobbie Huddleston and Faye Fulgham built was, at once, both impressive and just plain fun.

Among the features were blue window panes made from melted Jolly Ranchers, Christmas carolers from upside-down ice cream cones--complete with peppermint candy faces--and gift boxes from Starbursts, along with icing ribbons and bows. A special touch was the candy replica of Frances Coleman, MSU dean of libraries, and tiny gingerbread MSU fans ringing cowbells.

Huddleston, instructional media center assistant, and Fulgham, a library associate, were among the many staff members who contributed displays for a November gala held to thank library friends and others, and to launch the holiday season.

After brainstorming for a time, Huddleston and Fulgham came up with the idea of a gingerbread structure that might turn heads and cause jaws to drop.

"It was okay for us to play at work because it was for a library program," Fulgham said. "We did several displays centered around Eudora Welty for the Maroon Edition project this year, and she had some recipes in one of her books.

"I baked her fruitcake for the gala also, so the cooking idea initially came from our emphasis on Welty this year," she added.

The longtime colleagues went all out to create the scaled replica of their workplace. No detail of the massive Drill Field-facing brick building was spared.

"Ms. Faye and I just got kind of excited," Huddleston recalled, with a smile.

Fulgham had gingerbread experience, having made related items for her church and grandchildren. For Huddleston, a project of this kind was a first, but her creativity and knack for design were valuable skills she brought to the table.

"Bobbie was the engineer, and I was the day labor," Fulgham joked.

Beginning in late October and balancing their other work responsibilities, Huddleston began designing the project's structural supports, while Fulgham searched print books and the Internet for decorative ideas. Before they knew it, the assembly phase was at hand.

"I used Betty Crocker gingerbread mix; that's the best," Fulgham explained, adding that the real fun began with the "embellishment" phase.

"When it came toward the end, we pretty much sat in the back room and worked on it all day," Huddleston said.

Fulgham added: "We did a lot of research, and got ideas. When we saw a picture, we made it, whether we had instructions or not."

Their hard work and efforts were rewarded when the miniature Mitchell proved to be a big hit with the festival audience, and, subsequently, with students and library visitors for the remainder of the semester.

The gingerbread emitted a comfortable holiday aroma, but it was the many decorative details that made the display a focal point worthy of wonderment. Huddleston said she witnessed countless students making photographs of the creation.

"It was fun; it really was," Fulgham said. "Bobbie and I had a good time."

Huddleston observed that, while "most everyone around knew we were putting it together, I don't think they knew how big it was going to be and how much detail we were putting into it.

"I think most everybody was surprised," she concluded, with obvious pride

Not surprisingly, Fulgham and Huddleston said they would be willing to undertake the project again, because the work they did to prepare the holiday display was a treat in itself.

"There're not many people, other than those who work in a bakery, that get to say 'I made a gingerbread house at work!'" Huddleston said.

Allison Matthews | University Relations

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