Peeps Show

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 8, 2007


We were expecting a dozen or so entrants for our first-ever Peeps Diorama Contest. We got somewhere north of 350 from across the area and the world.

There were copious dioramas with antiwar or patriotic themes ("Give Peeps a Chance" and "George Washingpeep Crossing the Delaware," for example). Several chronicled Britney Spears's meltdown in front of the "Peeparazzi." Two dioramas adapted a classic Charlton Heston movie line: "Soylent Green is Peeps!"

There were some that stretched the boundaries of taste, such as the diorama titled "Dear Metrobus: Please Stop Running Over Our Peeps," which featured a cardboard bus with prostrated marshmallow bunnies in front of it. And an Army officer stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, crafted a diorama of Saddam Hussein's execution, with a purple bunny Peep hanging from a noose.

As we said: Wow.

Operations here at The Washington Post ground to a halt when the winning Peeps diorama, "Peeps Are a Girl's Best Friend," above, was unveiled a couple of weeks ago. Many bigwig journalists stopped by our section to marvel at Charles Johnston's restaging of the classic musical number in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Executive Editor Len Downie was heard to utter, "That's extraordinary."

And it is. It's a miracle we put out a paper the next day.

There are so many more great dioramas than what we've printed here and on pages 4 and 5, and we don't have room to gush over the craftsmanship and creativity. So all we can say is thank you -- and start thinking about next year.

Peeps Are A Girl's Best Friend

Charles Johnston, 48, Manassas

He knew he'd gone over-the-top when he spent $16 on Swarovski crystals for a woman made of marshmallows.

(Renee Comet Photography)
"After that I stopped looking at the receipts," says Johnston, a freelance graphic artist and photographer.

The money and time (two weeks) paid off. We were rendered speechless by the diorama's meticulous craftsmanship -- from Marilyn Monroe's sculpted hairdo (made of clay), to her curve-hugging pink papier-mache dress (her rump is made of a whole Peep), to the fine details of the tuxedoed Peepmen, each made of 61 pieces (their toes are coat hangers bent into L shapes, taped onto a dowel and coated 15 times with liquid spackling compound).

To the nitpicker, our contest instructions were a tad inconsistent from week to week. When Johnston saw in our March 4 issue that we said the diorama must be comparable in dimension to a shoebox, he called a clown-shoe company to inquire how big such a box might be. The guy was just trying to play by the rules.

Either way, he's our winner.

"It's something I see and never think to buy or eat," Johnston says of Peeps, which he now realizes are "delicious." "It was just a total challenge."

And a resounding success.

TIP: 1. Let the Peeps harden before using them. 2. Super Glue is the ideal adhesive for anchoring Peeps.

Marpeep Antoinette: Let Them Eat Jelly Beans

Cynthia Kopkowski, 29, Washington

When she learned she was a finalist, Kopkowski was elated and mortified. Why mortified?

(Renee Comet)
"Because it smacks of 'crazy cat lady,' " she says.

Kopkowski, a writer and editor, devoted an evening and ensuing morning to re-creating the decadent lifestyle of 18th-century Versailles. She was inspired by the candy-colored hues of Sofia Coppola's avant-garde biopic "Marie Antoinette" ("I thought the movie was 'meh,' but I liked the look of it"). After starting with the idea of cotton-ball wigs, everything fell into place:

She got the tiny wine bottles and playing cards from the Web site Dollhouse Collectibles, printed photos of Versailles landscapes from the Internet and got the wallpaper from the scrapbooking section at Michaels.

"I was giggling through the whole process because it was so ludicrous," Kopkowski says.

TIP: "Have your love life pretty well-cemented, because, as I joked with my boyfriend, I'd probably never get a date again if I was single and this came out."

Peepman and Boypeep Speed to the Peepmobile to Feed the Parking Meter

Liz Roberts, 65, Culpeper, Va.

Look at Roberts's earrings in her photo. Peeps. Made of Sculpey clay.

"My 33-year-old son is an art major, and I think he thought I was losing it," confesses Roberts, a grandmother of three.

Since retiring as a nurse four years ago, she has gravitated away from her usual watercolors toward acrylic abstract painting. With Peeps as her latest medium, Roberts sought to dramatize Batman and Robin sprinting to avoid a parking ticket.

(Renee Comet)
She sketched her idea beforehand and used pipe cleaners for legs and acrylic paint on paper for the capes. The Peepmobile is part Peep and part toy car, and there's space in the diorama to insert a light to illuminate the Peep signal. "When my children were little, I never gave them Peeps because I thought they were horrible things, being so sugary and nasty," Roberts says. "But the whole idea of using them as an artistic tool really appealed to me."

TIP: The Peeps tend to dissolve when painted partially. "I'd be painting on it at night and get up the next morning, and it'd be a big old goop of sugary solution. I ended up covering the whole Peep with acrylic paint. Even where it was yellow, I put yellow paint there. The noses kept breaking off. I did two Boypeeps. It's not the easiest thing. You have to coat the whole thing."

Peeping Peeps

Anne Lukas, 40, and Meg Paganelli, 37, Sterling

(Renee Comet)
It was the diorama's clean simplicity that engaged us -- the tandem looks of shock as one Peep realizes it's being ogled and the other realizes it has been caught. Embarrassment on both sides of the bathroom window!

The initial concept was a little more complex, though.

"We talked about raiding our daughters' Barbie doll accessories," says Lukas, left in the photo, a freelance illustrator. "Originally we were going to put [the Peeps] in two apartment complexes and have one looking in on the other but then thought, 'We'll never find time to do that.' Simplicity is better, visually."

So Lukas and Paganelli, a Loudoun County public school teacher, opted for an austere, clinical bathroom setup accentuated by polymer clay (the showerhead, the Peeps' bug eyes). The shower cap is made of sealable plastic wrap threaded with string.

"We have similar senses of humor -- a little dry, definitely enjoy a play on words," Paganelli says. " 'Peeping Peeps' . . . It was such an obvious one that it begged to be done."

TIP: Save the sugar that falls to the bottom of the Peeps box. Use it to patch up the white scars that appear on the sides of Peeps when you detach them from one another.

Dr. Paul's Peep-o-Suction Clinic

Marti Doyle, 50, Washington

Okay, very topical, very "now." But where specifically did the inspiration come from?

"I just think Peeps are funny," says Doyle, who a creative manager by trade and a volunteer for Art Enables, a program for aspiring artists with disabilities. "Peeps have always cracked me up."

But why?

"I dunno."

(Now, a reporter tactic: Ask the same question using different words.)

(Renee Comet)
What is it about Peeps?

"I've always wanted to tour the factory."

Do you eat them?

"No, they're disgusting."

Oh, snap. Talk about a self-esteem killer. But after all, we live in a society that tries to keep up the appearance of healthiness, even if it's at the expense of our actual health. Notice the "before" and "after" shots in the diorama: a properly plump Peep and an emaciated post-op Peep.

Notice, too, the surgeon's mask (snipped from an actual mask and sewed), gown (made from disposable sterile cloths used in operating rooms) and tiny stethoscope (that, as well as the X-ray on the wall, is from a male nurse doll a co-worker gave Doyle for Christmas).

TIP: Peeps are hard to manipulate. "I thought about slicing him down," Doyle says about the thin-Peep photo, "but it was a gooey proposition. So Photoshop was much easier."

See the Peeps

To see the dioramas in person, head to Artomatic, an eclectic multimedia bonanza for regional artists, starting Friday in Crystal City.

Artomatic, Friday through May 20. 2121 Crystal Dr., Arlington. Free, donations accepted.


View photos of the 22 semifinalists.

Vote for your favorite.


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