In Thane Veltkamp’s class at Lynden Christian Middle School, cranes are made of pretzel sticks and roof shingles of square pieces of cereal.
Graham crackers are turned into walls for a house, Gummi Sharks are melted to become turquoise paint for a car, and gumdrops – lots of them – make up balloons strong enough to lift a house.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students in Veltkamp’s 3D Art and Design class were busy Monday preparing their creations for the 21st annual gingerbread house contest that is part of the free and family-friendly Holiday Port Festival put on by the Port of Bellingham Friday through Sunday.
The gingerbread creations will be on display during the festival, which also includes a host of local performers, at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, 355 Harris Ave.
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There are about a hundred entries in the competition each year, according to Tiffany DeSimone, meeting and event supervisor for the Port of Bellingham.
“The gingerbread house contest is a big part of the festival,” DeSimone said, adding that the local performers were equally important.
The theme for this year’s gingerbread house contest is “Northwest Adventure,” although competitors don’t have to stick to it.
Veltkamp’s two classes each designed a house for the competition.
The one with all the balloons will be recognizable to fans of the Pixar movie, “Up,” an animated tale of the adventures of a 78-year-old man, a young boy, and a dog easily distracted by squirrels.
Veltkamp’s second class built a gingerbread house with the theme of “A Cabin in the Woods,” which includes upside-down ice cream cones transformed into evergreen trees, candy rocks as bricks for a rustic fireplace and Christmas-colored candy corns as outside lights.
It’s the second year his students have entered their creations in the gingerbread house competition.
The creations don’t have to be houses, contest organizers said, just as long as they resemble edible structures of some sort. What’s underneath can be made of cardboard or propped up by wire coat hangers, but the outside must look good enough to eat.
They don’t even have to be made of gingerbread, though they should look like the dream creation of someone with a serious sweet tooth.
Before they could build their houses, Veltkamp’s students had to first design and draw them using a 3D program called SketchUp.
After they learned the program, they brainstormed what kind of structure they wanted to create. And then they were broken into groups to tackle things such as engineering, researching different types of candies, and budgeting.
Veltkamp also had some students do simple experiments at home to try to recreate candy glass.
One benefit of the project to Veltkamp is that it’s “very real world.”
“You’re solving a problem,” he said, albeit fun and lighthearted. “You’re building a house out of candy. You’re having to follow a whole bunch of steps.”
In between joking about snacking on the raw materials, Veltkamp’s students on Monday said the project was fun. They liked the collaborative approach and being able to work with their hands on an idea.
“You aren’t just stuck in a seat,” said 13-year-old Luke Kramer, an eighth-grader. “Instead, you’re hands-on, which I really like.”
Next to him, Carly Hayden, 13, and Kennedy Bos, 12, both in the seventh grade, were using Betty Crocker black icing to accent windows and doors on the turquoise car.
Bos also liked being able to express herself using something other than words.
“You can build it and show it to people,” she said.
See gingerbread house creations
What: Holiday Port Festival, which will include displays of gingerbread houses as well as performances from local choirs, dancers and bands. Other events include art activities for children, horse-drawn and tractor wagon rides, visits with Santa, and tours of the Alaska Ferry.
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Silent auction: Many of the entries in the gingerbread house contest are donated to a silent auction that runs throughout the three-day festival. The event also includes a food drive for the Bellingham Food Bank.