A Peep at the Finalists

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Peeps on Parade

"Chinatown's Lucky Dragon Dancers Perform 'Goodbye Year of the Rat; Hello Year of the Peeples' " by Betty Thompson, Ocean Pines, Md.

Inspired by a Chinese restaurant on Sixth Street NW and the Chinese New Year festivities -- and by a desire to spice up her "mundane obituary" by winning a spot in at least the semifinals -- Thompson, a 76-year-old master gardener, says, "Last year we were walking through Chinatown, and we ate dinner at this restaurant and I saw all these chickens hanging in the window. I took a pictured and painted it. I just loved the chickens."

Thompson maintains the garden at the Taylor House Museum in Berlin, Md., but says her horticultural skills were of little use during the diorama-making. She relied on photos, crafty materials from Wal-Mart and a history of artistry that runs in her family (her grandmother had her own studio, her aunt was an art teacher and her daughter went to art school).

Note the hand-painted Chinese flag, the Peep stretched into the dragon's head and the roasted Peking Peeps in the window (finely dusted with brown acrylic paint).

What's the appeal of a Peeps diorama? Why invest so much energy into something so strange?

"I don't know," Thompson says. "It's just so silly. I have a real strong silly streak and I just think it's so amusing. You can't help but like it."

Peeps Go Graphical

"M.C. Escher's 'RelativiPeep' " by Mark Rivetti, Silver Spring.

The diorama harnesses the multicolored dynamism of Peeps in the labyrinthine black-and-white geometry of Escher's original 1953 lithograph "Relativity," which depicts a mind-bending scene of gravity-defying staircases. It is perhaps the most conceptually ambitious of this year's entries: "RelativiPeep" is roughly 2 1/2 feet tall and had to be built in proportion to the Peeps, which take the place of Escher's faceless, stair-climbing humanoids.

"The most important part of the model was building it to the scale of the bunny," says Rivetti, 25, an architect, who spent 30 hours over several weeks planning and building the outsize diorama. Rivetti took a cue from a Lego version of "Relativity" that he saw online, but decided to keep the background design in black and white while letting the Peeps' colors provide the necessary un-Escher-like pop.

"I wanted to go for something complex enough to win," says Rivetti, who's no stranger to the contest. He made it to the semifinals last year with an unconventional reinterpretation of the famous Woodstock poster. To see it, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/peeps.

Chicks Down Jet; Bunnies Survive

"Double Peep Strike" by Brady Gordon, LeElaine Comer and Justin Donnelly, Washington.

Memorializing the "Miracle on the Hudson" water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in January, the diorama stood out for its craftsmanship, simplicity and topicality. It also puts us at water level, near the action, which is closer than CNN could get us. We can see the passengers' faces up close. Do the beady eyes of the bunny Peeps express shock or calmness? That's for the viewer to decide.

"We thought it was the most memorable image from the past year," says Gordon, 28, a researcher, of the photos of passengers standing on the wings of the plane. Gordon, Comer, 27, and Donnelly, 29, used those photos to faithfully render the Airbus.

Note the white-mustachioed Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (made partly of clay), the feathers near the plane's engines (remnants of the double bird strike) and the painted Pepsi bottle made into the fuselage.

"We drank the Pepsi as we made the diorama," says Comer, a state policy analyst.

Octuplets Pop [Peep?] Out

"Oh My Peep! There's an 'H' in There" by Gwen Jones, Richmond.

We received several dioramas depicting the Suleman octuplets, who were born in January, but this one bowled us over with its precision and detail. And it was made by someone who has her hands full with just one child.

"The octuplet story was funny itself, but the thing that struck me most was they coded all the kids 'A' to 'G' because they thought there were seven in there," says Jones, 34, a homemaker and freelance graphic designer. "I thought that it was funny that they had all these medical advances but they didn't know there was an eighth kid."

Jones's husband was laid off in January, so he watched the baby while she focused on diorama construction.

"He got a job since then so I can't work on any more," says Jones, who labored on the diorama for five hours a week for six straight weeks. "He needs to lose his job next year if I want to be able to do another one."

Note the stethoscopes made of paper clips and single silver sequins, the individually sewn caps for the babies (whose pink bodies are actually amputated Peep bunny ears) and the cat poster that says "Hang in there, baby!" on the delivery room wall.

That last one seems like an odd touch . . .

"I just thought it was funny," Jones says. "If you were actually going into labor and saw a goofy aspirational poster like that, you'd want to rip it off the wall and throw it at somebody."

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