Category Archives: National Archives

Meet Cakemaker and NARA employee Gretchen Shoemaker

As a sidebar to the documentary film, we are featuring web profiles of federal employees who also do something creative on the side. Meet Gretchen Shoemaker, a Preservation Specialist for the National Archives at St. Louis.  Gretchen finds her creative outlet through baking and cake decorating. Here she tells her story.

GWTCakes11

My department is responsible for caring for and making accessible military and civilian personnel records that have been damaged in some way; most notably a large collection of records damaged in a 1973 fire at our old facility. What I love about the job: we help veterans every day. It’s a great honor to be able to serve those who have served our country. Also, the work is just plain cool! It is a little history, a little science, and a little art. It’s as frustrating as it is rewarding, and pride in a job well done is always tempered by the wish we could do more. We have normal office issues like everyone else, but sequestration and furlough have taken a huge toll on morale as well as resources. It’s more important than ever to find ways to decompress and stay positive.

GWTCakes9I learned baking and cake decorating from my mom. When I started college I found that cakes make cheap birthday gifts for friends, and most of the time they were experiencing their first birthdays away from home and missed that bit of tradition. It gave me a boost knowing I had a talent that could make people happy.

I really got into cakes as art about the time I started working for the National Archives. I started by experimenting with recipes, but moved into cake sculpting and working with fondant and gum paste figures to design cakes that are very personal to the person they are for. It’s fun to see what I can get away with, but I also love trying to bring a little joy into the lives of my co-workers.

GWTCakes10Baking and decorating is a great creative outlet/stress reliever for me, as well. I can, and often do, spend hours planning and researching a design. I usually do my baking and decorating at night after the kids have gone to bed so I can work uninterrupted. The creativity is exciting and relaxing, and the level of concentration is enough allow me to think about other things (like work) without thinking too much about other things. I have made many major decisions about my life over a bag of icing.

I’m not, by any means, a professional. Some cakes turn out well, others looked a whole lot better on paper. My talent will probably never match my imagination, but I love what I do and it makes people happy. I consider myself a cake folk artist.

GWTCakes6GWTCakes7GWTCake1

If you are an employee of the federal government but spend your evenings or weekends doing something something creative (whether as a second career or as a strong hobby) and would like to be featured on our Meet the Creatives section of this website, tell us a little bit about your story.