There are currently 1,300 certified Wilton Method Instructors across the country. Senior Decorator Mary Gavenda was one of the very first WMI’s.
Gavenda attended Wilton’s first basic seminar on cake decorating when the company was trying to get the WMI program started and offer more classes at retail stores. From that seminar, six attendees were hired to work in stores in the Chicago area to teach students The Wilton Method of Cake Decorating.
Prior to Wilton, Gavenda got interested in cake decorating to learn how to make birthday cakes for her three children. She didn’t have the easiest start.
“I originally took a [non-Wilton] class at a high school for adult education,” she said. “I’m a right handed person, but I do cake decorating with my left hand. The teacher didn’t know what to do with me; she would just walk away when I had a question.”
As the due date for Gavenda’s final project grew near, she faced a problem that she never saw coming.
“I was baking my cake at home to bring to the final day of class,” she said. “When I went to put my cake in the oven, the oven door completely fell off and I wasn’t able to bake my cake. I never got my certificate from that class because I didn’t show on the last day.”
Despite the struggles, that first class was the start of a nearly 40 year career in cake decorating. Many of those years have been spent teaching others how to decorate, which is what Gavenda loves most. She continues to teach the Fundamentals of Gum Paste course at The Wilton School of Cake Decorating in Darien, Illinois. Gavenda always tries to adapt to her students’ various needs and challenges.
“There’s always students who struggle and it could be for various reasons – attention span is one, and you have to adapt your teaching style to hold their attention longer,” she said. “I’ve had students with arthritis in their fingers who couldn’t turn a flower nail, so we would adjust the thickness of the nail with a pencil grip or masking tape to make it easier to hold.”
Gavenda said she is always surprised to see how many parents and grandparents come to learn how to decorate for their children and grandchildren. One man’s final cake still stands out as one of the most memorable – he made a magician’s hat cake with a rabbit popping out for his grandchildren.
“He did a great job and it feels so rewarding to know you helped someone accomplish that,” she said. “There’s so much satisfaction in bringing enjoyment to others and helping them create their special project or cake.”
With her decorating career spanning three decades, Gavenda has certainly seen a lot of changes in trends and decorating styles. In recent years, she’s noticed that decorating is becoming more casual.
“I think we’re seeing less tip work and more casual decorating so as not to intimidate the everyday person,” she said. “It’s a combination of people wanting a treat to taste good as well as look good.”
Gavenda will continue to teach at The Wilton School and help students interested in mastering more advanced decorating skills.
“It gives me so much gratification when I see in the students’ eyes that they understand a technique and can do it themselves,” she said. “They’re so pleased with what they do. That’s the best reward any teacher can get, is to make sure their students are ‘getting it’ and you can tell by their expressions when they’re so excited about what they just created.”
All of the incredible cakes and sweet treats you see from Wilton come from our amazing decorating team! The Wilton Decorating Room creates about 2,600 decorating projects each year. These projects are used for photography for packaging, Wilton publications, Wilton.com, social media, in-store signage, Wilton course photography and more. Check back each Tuesday to learn more about one of Wilton’s decorators and what it’s like to create and decorate cakes and sweet treats every day. This is post 2 of 7.