Without fail, the annual Peeps diorama contest provides surprising insight into the zeitgeist, from pop cultural references to political sendups to musings on the state of humanity. Creative types look to the local, national and international stages for inspiration, and their dioramas are shoebox-size portrayals of the very things that have entertained, entranced and irritated us over the past year. From this year’s 900-plus entries, we gleaned that Justin Bieber and Banksy are deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness; that Lady Gaga’s appeal, while seemingly endless, is nearly impossible to capture with candy; and that some of you might be spending a bit too much time playing Angry Birds. Read on to discover the inspiration — and perhaps a few more life lessons — behind the five finalist dioramas. And if you still think yours is better, upload a photo of it to our reader gallery.
“Chilean CoPeepapo Mine Rescue”
Mary Jo Ondrejka, 53, Reston; Margaret Hartka, 53, Parkton, Md.; Bryn Metzdorf, 40, Fairfax
As the dramatic rescue mission at Chile’s Copiapo mine unfolded in October, Mary Jo Ondrejka, Margaret Hartka and Brynn Metzdorf knew they’d found the perfect subject for their contest entry.
“We tossed around ideas all year, keeping an eye on the news and popular culture,” Ondrejka says. “When the mine disaster was happening ... we decided it would appeal to everyone.”
Ondrejka and Metzdorf were semifinalists in last year’s contest with an Olympics diorama that featured the Salahis, and this year’s creation strikes the same balance between life-affirming and tongue-in-cheek. Ondrejka, a communications manager, took careful notes while researching the mine disaster, translating moments from the two-month-long ordeal into vignettes both heartfelt and offbeat. There’s a Peep version of Ariel Ticona, the miner who emerged to meet his newborn daughter for the first time, and a Peep Elvis, which is the creators’ tribute to miner Edison Peña, who attributed his survival to an affinity for the King’s tunes. In another scene, a Peep miner is greeted by both his mistress and his wife — the latter wielding a rolling pin — a scene inspired by the soap-opera-worthy tale of Johnny Barrios Rojas.
“I looked at what people were wearing — the people who actually brought the miners up were wearing orange jumpsuits, so I made all the little outfits,” Ondrejka says. “I tried to make the wives look fancy and pretty, and we had to have dirty, hairy Peeps. The miners had asked for shampoo and razors because they wanted to get clean before they came up, so one of the Peeps is shaving.”
The trio began with a rough sketch of the mine scene, and Metzdorf, a graphic designer, took on the role of chief construction manager and geologist. She started with a cardboard copy-paper box, covering it with layer upon layer of papier-mâché and using spray insulation and fleck stone spray paint to create rock formations. Along the way, she implanted tactile details: miniature seashells, faux gemstones to represent diamonds and a model dinosaur skeleton cut up to resemble fossils. Ondrejka estimates that the team spent about $150 to $200 on supplies. The result is an imposing diorama almost three feet tall, with a panoramic backdrop.