As a gallery owner, Jane Ernst knows a good deal about all sorts of art, from photography to painting to sculpture. This spring, she learned to work with a new medium: marshmallows, covered in neon-colored sugar and shaped like bunnies and ducklings.
“They have to be stale before you can work with them. They have to harden,” she said of Peeps, the first insight she gained while assembling a diorama starring the beloved Easter treat.
Inspired by The Washington Post’s annual Peeps diorama contest, the town of Occoquan held a “Peep Show” on Saturday. Shoppers and spectators strolled through town the day before Easter, stopping at 15 shops to see the Peeps dioramas created by the store employees.
Ernst created a replica of her gallery, Artists’ Undertaking, with tiny images of the gallery’s art hanging on the walls and bunnies hard at work painting their own masterpieces. Outside, she parked a cardboard bus filled with Peep tourists and driven by a Peep mayor to represent the bus that Occoquan’s real-life, non-marshmallow mayor drives across the town.
The staff at Personally Yours drew inspiration from just a little further away, creating a diorama called “Peepster Egg Roll” that depicted the annual White House event. The president and first lady — a pair of cocoa-flavored Peeps dressed in the finest cardstock Easter outfits — looked on with their two dogs as Peep children pushed jelly beans on tiny sample-size spoons, all in front of a blown-up photo of the White House.
Sherry Smith, an artist with a studio at Loft Gallery who ordinarily crafts in clay and colored pencil, bedecked about 20 Peeps in elaborate costumes, including sunglasses, tutus, purses and pink pumps. She used cardboard and Christmas lights to build an elevated platform for her glitzy bunnies to strut on, and called her diorama “Project Peepway.”
“My inspiration was Lady Gaga,” she said. “I just knew I was going to glam them up — I figured you can do anything you want, as long as they’re Peeps. I like to do shiny, sparkles, sequins.”
Between the marshmallows and the hot glue, she said, she worked for three days with very sticky fingers.
Loft was one of the only stores in town that offered Peeps to eat as well as look at. Children visiting the gallery could assemble kabobs of grapes, Life Savers Gummies, and several varieties of Peeps.
As part of the business promotion, the Easter Bunny also strolled up and down Mill Street, handing out plastic eggs and foam Peeps visors.
Julie Marshall and Kristyn Gleason, the owners of Polka Dot Divas, coated Peep ducklings’ bases in wax so that they would float in a pool of damp, slippery water beads.
Next to the pool in their beach-party diorama, two teams of bunnies played volleyball. “That can’t be easy when you don’t have arms,” Gleason mused.
“They use their ears. Think about how long their ears are,” Marshall replied.
They tried to make the volleyball out of a dismembered Peep but found that changing the shape of the spongy confection was harder than they anticipated. “You can’t really re-form it,” Gleason said. “There were a lot of Peeps injured in the making of this.”
Marshall chimed in, “And then we just had to eat them.”