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Retired pastry chef whipping up paintings for Boulder City festival

Chuck and Helga Culpepper had been friends with Willy Baumann for years, but they weren’t prepared for what they saw when they stepped his studio.

“When I saw his studio for the first time,” said Helga Culpepper, “I said, ‘This man has to be known.’ So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Culpeppers met Baumann and his wife, Inge, at a dog park. They became fast friends, but two years ago both wives coincidentally went in for surgery the same day.

“I came home from the hospital, but she had stage four (cancer) and wasn’t going to be here long,” Culpepper said. “I promised we’d take care of Willy; we wouldn’t let him die alone.”

Two years later, Helga Culpepper has taken on the task of promoting her friend’s paintings.

“The first time the public had ever seen his paintings was three months ago,” Helga Culpepper said. “He’d never been in a show before. I said, ‘Willy, I’m putting you out there.’ He was in a show in Boulder City and already he has commissions.”

Baumann grew up in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and emigrated to America in 1959 to work with his brothers.

“My oldest brother, Kurt, bought Schmidt’s Bakery on the south shore of Lake Tahoe,” Baumann said. “Schmidt speculated that my brother would be out of business in a year and he could buy it back, but the business is still in operation today.”

The bakery and coffee shop soon became a restaurant, and the Baumanns changed its name to the Swiss Chalet. All four Baumann brothers worked there through changes and expansions. Two were chefs and two, including Willy Baumann, were pastry chefs.

Baumann lived in the Tahoe area 27 years before moving to the Los Angeles area, where he taught classes and demonstrated his brother’s kitchen merchandise.

“I taught that if you worked hard, you could be successful,” Baumann said. “But if you’re lazy, don’t go in the kitchen. It’s work.”

He taught his son the rudiments of painting but had no time to paint himself. His son recently launched “The Grand View,” an outdoor painting show on Public Broadcasting’s Create Network.

The Baumanns retired to Las Vegas six years ago, and Willy Baumann put down the pastry bags and picked up a brush.

“When you’re a cake decorator, you know a little bit about painting,” he said. “In the early days, we didn’t have a computer. You had to draw your flowers on the cake.”

Helga Culpepper remains awed by the paintings.

“He’s so precise, so careful with the measuring,” Culpepper said. “All the shadows are there in the right place, and there is so much detail.”

The Culpeppers and Baumann still explore the desert looking for natural beauty in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but now they also are looking for things to paint.

“Las Vegas is really a super town for people who want to see nature and want to put it on a canvas,” Baumann said. “It’s very satisfying.”

Baumann’s work is scheduled to be on display at the 26th annual Boulder City Fine Arts Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 16 and 17 in Boulder City’s Bicentennial Park. For more information about the festival, visit bcfineartsfestival.com. Baumann can be reached at his home studio at

Contact Sunrise and Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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