Frances Kuyper dies at 92; pioneer cake decorator was known as the ‘Cake Lady’
Frances Kuyper, whose passion for cake decorating earned her the nickname the “Cake Lady” and prompted her to open the world’s first cake museum, died July 15 in Los Angeles after a lengthy illness. She was 92.
For the last dozen years Kuyper had lived at the Hollenbeck Palms retirement home in Boyle Heights and maintained a mini-cake museum in its basement.
She opened her first cake museum in a house in Pasadena in 1994. It displayed about 150 cakes — some up to 65 years old and hardened from age.
“No, I don’t have a mouse or insect problem,” she laughed during a 1996 interview. “I had the place fogged with bug bombs before I opened. I have a termite guy come every month. I’ve tried to think of everything.”
An upstairs room at the museum contained a cake-decorating reference library with more than 1,000 books and about 100 videos. Kuyper conducted decorating classes there to help pay for the operation of the museum, which did not charge admission.
In cake circles, Kuyper was known for her pioneering use of the airbrush for decorating.
“She was an absolute legend. She took cake-decorating to its maximum height,” said Ernie Molina, owner of AmeriColor Corp., a Placentia-based airbrush paint company that supplied Kuyper’s edible paint and was a friend for 25 years.
Born near Chicago in 1918, Kuyper worked with her sister Charlotte in vaudeville as the singing “Schultz Sisters” before marrying. After moving to Los Angeles in 1948, she mowed lawns to supplement her mailman-husband’s salary so she could buy baking ingredients that she used when making birthday cakes for neighborhood youngsters. Later, she worked in a Torrance bakery before forming her own cake-decorating business.
She said she learned many of her early cake-decorating skills by standing hours at a time outside a baker’s shop at the Fairfax District’s Farmers Market.
Her vaudevillian experience gave her an outgoing personality that she eventually put to good use as she staged cake-decorating classes and demonstrations around the world. In the late 1990s, she was tapped to be a special correspondent on the " Howie Mandel Show.” Developing a cult following on TV, she was later in demand for commercials.
“Frances was instrumental in igniting interest in cake decorating. She was so innovative — she was the first to airbrush a cake without blowing holes in the frosting. She will be missed,” said Carolyn Mathewson of Danielson, Conn., a leader of the International Cake Exploration Societe.
A spokeswoman for Hollenbeck Palms, where a memorial is planned at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, said it is uncertain what will happen to Kuyper’s mini-cake museum.
Kuyper is survived by a daughter, Carol Thomas, of Roseville, Calif., and two grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.
Hollenbeck Palms is at 573 S. Boyle Ave., Los Angeles.