FOR her awardwinning entry in this year's Gingerbread Lane display, Butler + Wood Design's Mary-Jean Butler drew inspiration from the memory of a Parisian vacation taken with her family.
Having visited a busy square near the Seine, her then young children had delighted in the beautiful vintage carousel at its heart.
Butler had never forgotten the experience, and opted to draw upon it, as well as a familiar winter scene from Doctor Zhivago for her edible creation, titled Manège en Rennes, French for "carousel of the reindeer."
"That's what I had in mind, that it could be like a journey into this winter wonderland," says Butler, a West Vancouver resident.
The entry was awarded first place in the amateur category and is among 40 pieces on display in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver as part of the 21st annual Gingerbread Lane. Donations from the event benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Butler's piece was a joint venture between herself and Colleen Wood, her partner in Butler + Wood Design, a West Vancouver graphic design firm.
"It was on the bucket list to do," says Butler, who's long been a fan of the annual holiday-themed creative fundraiser.
"I started noticing it when our kids were small and we would bring them downtown during the Christmas holidays for a treat and that would be one of the definite stops," she says.
Apart from being a graphic designer, Butler is also a painter and exhibits her work locally. She's also built gingerbread houses for family and friends over the years. She opted to put her skills to the test this year for the first time and create a less traditional gingerbread house, drawing on her diverse artistic background.
Despite her host of skills, the project proved challenging.
"I had to approach it from a completely different angle than most of the other people who entered who are professional bakers," says Butler. "They had prior knowledge on how to make things stand and all the different technical aspects of baking. I'm not a baker by any means. The most lengthy part of the entire process was thinking about it, thinking about how I could make happen what I wanted to happen."
However, her ingenuity prevailed and she pulled off her intricate design, incorporating a variety of impressive touches, from lit white lights to the use of specialty candy imported from Europe.
"It was a definite learning experience," she says.
Butler encourages North Shore families to attend the exhibition.
"It's a wonderful way to start the Christmas season," she says. "Right from the moment you enter the door, you can smell the gingerbread - it kind of floods you with nostalgia. It's a lovely gathering to bring families to and to have the tradition of stopping at the Hyatt and supporting Make-A-Wish, which is a fantastic foundation. . . . It's a nice thing to be part of from a creative standpoint, but it's a bonus when you're helping somebody else."
Other North Shore entries in this year's Gingerbread Lane include: Jan Calkins from West Vancouver (amateur category); Braxton Calkins, 9, Mulgrave School, West Vancouver (amateur category); Seycove secondary (secondary school category); and West Vancouver secondary (secondary school category). They join Hyatt Regency Vancouver executive sous chef Hans Lutz's gigantic gingerbread house, which is 11-by-16 feet wide. Ingredients include 500 pounds of gingerbread dough, 400 pounds of confection sugar and 1,400 egg whites.
Gingerbread Lane, which sees approximately 20,000 visitors annually, will remain on display until Dec. 27.
Info: www. hyattregencyvancouver.com.