She recently completed work on a massive cake for the 125th anniversary of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, to resemble one of the original buildings that was torn down in 1923.
That job was a result of a referral from another cake, one that emulated the exterior of the First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga for the church’s 100 birthday.
Crafting colossal cakes has been a focus for Sherrill’s Catering, Cakes, and Flowers long before the popularity of the Food Network or Martha Stewart.
Sylvia Sherrill grew up making watercolor paintings, which led to studying music and art while at Lee College and UTC.
Parental responsibilities put painting on hold, as three children became the priority.
Sylvia began building her cake business similar to the way she crafts her cakes, through a healthy dose of tenacity and a bit of trial and error.
She began by baking for friends and church members, which increased as word of mouth spread. Birthday and wedding cake requests soon followed, utilizing her painting skills and artistic touches.
The large oversized cakes evolved from client requests, further challenging her abilities.
“We just don’t know how to say no,” Sherrill said, not shying away from client challenges.
Police officers have often opted for her groom’s cake made from donuts, usually in the form of their patrol vehicle, according to Sherrill.
Those cakes utilize a non-edible form to create a frame for the gum-paste columns and windows.
While in art school, Sherrill won several awards for pottery, not realizing at the time how vital that skill would be in constructing her three-dimensional cakes.
Her talent in watercolors has also been helpful for the hand-painted wedding cakes that the business is known for.
He realistic replication and attention to tiny details is especially important when matching cakes to the china patterns that they are served on.
All of her skills as a cake decorator have been self-taught, even creating a few of her own cake recipes in years past.
Gum paste, candy clay, and roll fondant are different ways of covering a cake, or creating hard surfaces for detailed pieces that may be edible or only for display.
Artistic flare is a feminine trait in the Sherrill lineage. Gladys Weinmeister, Sylvia’s mother, is an artist in her own right, even having her work displayed in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
Sherry Tiner, Sherrill’s daughter, followed in those creative footsteps, as a professional artist who worked in Chattanooga for several years.
The Sherrill men are more technically minded. Sylvia’s husband Charles has worked in television repair next door to the bakery.
Their two sons have gone on to become Dr. David Sherrill, a quantum chemist at Georgia Tech, while Paul Sherrill is the chief engineer with Bell Helicopter.
The Sherrills may be widely known for their cakes, but they also offer floral arrangements, decorating, and catering to couples ready to walk down the aisle.
Techniques in decorating change as the clients’ interests do. In the past five years the Sherrills have created many wedding cakes in blue or green color themes.
A white wedding cake is a rarity in recent years, according to Sherrill, as color and creativity is now in demand as customers are aware of the possibilities.
Charles and Sylvia once worked together on a wedding cake that had 3,000 gold-leaf flowers on the multi-tiered cake.
The cascading bouquets of the 1980s have disappeared. Brides now favor smaller hand-tied floral arrangements.
She has held several cake decorating classes over the years.
Their specialized cakes have helped them through recessionary years, as loyal customers remained despite the wedding industry’s noticeable decline.
Regal Crème cakes are Sherrill’s best-selling flavor, but Sylvia’s taste buds prefer traditional chocolate cake.
May is the busiest month of the year for the iconic Rossville business, which does regional events in Knoxville, Nashville, and Atlanta on occasion.
Sherrill’s Catering, Cakes, and Flowers is at 516 Chickamauga Ave. in Rossville. Its hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. For more information, go online to sherrillscakes.com.