ABOVE A replica of Boothbay’s 1786 Kenniston Hill Inn by locals Wendy and Alan Bellows has won awards in Kevin Kiley’s gingerbread house contest.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE OPERA HOUSE AT BOOTHBAY HARBOR
Kevin Kiley really wants you to make a gingerbread house. He wants you to gather your COVID pod, break out the ’nog and the Nutcracker Suite, and summon your creative energy. “It doesn’t even have to be gingerbread,” he says, noting that pasta, matzo, and even dog-biscuit dough are fine alternatives. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be a house. In the 16 years he’s reigned as the grand pooh-bah of festive food structures at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor’s annual fundraiser, Gingerbread Spectacular!, Kiley’s seen versions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a spinning carousel, a sock monkey, and a mirror-as-ice-rink with gingerbread skaters skirting the surface via a hidden, magnetized track. One year, a local business team stuck a gingerbread dwelling inside a massive plastic dome and called it a snow globe. “It had sugar billowing inside for snow,” Kiley says. “It was quite incredible.”
Maybe your ambitions are more modest: a peppermint roof, some dewdrop landscaping. If so, you might want to check out Kiley’s free workshop on gingerbread house basics, held each November at the Opera House. Here, Kiley, a pianist, singer, and the theater’s technical director, covers things like how to make your walls flat and your icing sticky. He used to teach the class with his mother, Patricia, who hung up her apron in 2014. Her love of the craft rubbed off on her son, who made his first solo effort, a simple white-frosted cottage, at age 15.
ABOVE A gingerbread castle with an attacking dragon, by locals Wendy and Alan Bellows.
Since then, his creations have become increasingly complex, like the 3-foot-wide replica of the 1894 Opera House he displayed at the 2007 fundraiser. He had to prop up the interior walls with more gingerbread to prevent collapsing and some of his cookie patrons lost their limbs and had to be consumed. But the building sold to a local jeweler, who displayed it in his shop window for weeks. “When the sun would shine through the window and hit that gingerbread house, it smelled heavenly,” Kiley says. “It smelled like ginger and —” he pauses, searching for the word — “holidays.”