Peeps Show 2
Sunday, March 23, 2008; Page N01
A bounty of mallow rained down on us this Lenten season. The Peeps came not like locusts but like meteors of great ambition and, yes, some arts-and-crafts psychosis. More than 800 entries choked the Sunday Source's inbox for the second annual Peeps Diorama Contest. Our cup runneth over. Thank you.
There was the usual -- several "Give Peeps a Chance" and "Village Peeple" dioramas, as well as a bunch encouraging Peeple to vote (well-meaning, yes, but we're tired of the campaigns) -- but most were either clever or sensational, or some twisted combination of both.
"Chick in a Box" parodied the racier Justin Timberlake-Andy Samberg song from "Saturday Night Live." "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Peep Street" was a bloody menagerie. One diorama depicted the act of making a diorama. Meta-dioramism. Our heads exploded.
But none of these were finalists, let alone semifinalists. There was just too much invention to choose from.
So how did we winnow 800 submissions to 32, then five, then one? Sunday Source staffers eyeballed the 800 diorama photos, tossed out the unworthy ones and compiled a slide show of the 120 best. Then we sat in a dark room for a couple of hours, viewed the slide show and assigned each diorama a star rating (0 to 5). This process was like a vigorous session of British Parliament. Lots of arguing and cursing. Tears were shed. Feelings were hurt.
Somehow, though, we picked the five finalists and gathered those dioramas to judge in person. Our winner this year is "The Tomb of King Peepankhamun," a masterpiece of art decoration by 22-year-old Laura Sillers of Potomac. See her creation and the rest of the finalists in our photo gallery.
Laura Sillers, 22, Potomac
Laura Sillers heard about the Peeps Diorama Contest 48 hours before the Sunday deadline. Undaunted, she began work Friday night and whipped up the most arresting diorama of the bunch.
"I'd been to a really great Egyptian art museum in Chicago a couple months ago, and it just seemed like fun, a good possibility for drama and lighting," says Sillers, who graduated from Princeton University in June and plans to go to medical school next year.
The only items she bought were Peeps. Being a painter and a crafty person in general, Sillers had all the other ingredients around the house. The diorama frame is cardboard glue-gunned together and covered with acrylic. The torches are piped-in Christmas lights. Even the hieroglyphics -- inspired by Google image searches -- are steeped in Peeps imagery. The pharaoh, though, is not a real Peep. It's a clay figure adorned with paint. And notice the mummy Peep staggering out of the walls of the tomb.
When Sillers found out she was a finalist, she and her friends celebrated by making s'mores with Peeps. ("I feel a little guilty for so callously sending a bunny into the fire after spending so much time with them for the contest," she confesses in a follow-up e-mail.)
TIP:"It's important to pick a theme you know will make a great image," Sillers says. "And it was nice to not be confined to a shoe box. I made it in the round. I never built it in the box. I built the box afterward, and this let me have more angles involved."
Jane Dokko, 30, Washington, and Ilana Greenstein, 31, Alexandria
This submission e-mail used some pretty lofty language:
" 'Peep Art' -- a reinterpretation of the Pop Art movement and homage to Andy Warhol and his muse Edie Sedgwick -- is a revolutionary concept taking the Peeps Diorama Contest to an entirely different level."
"The name is a pun, and the concept itself is the pun," explains Ilana Greenstein, an operations officer for the CIA. "Pop art uses everyday images in art, and Peep art does the same." With Peeps. Multiple levels of meaning. After two contests and more than 1,100 dioramas, we may finally have a submission that defines the Peep art movement.
Greenstein and Jane Dokko's diorama exudes the austerity of a museum, but within the mounted frames it's colorful chaos: Peeps cutouts splashed on a Jackson Pollock, "PEEP!" replacing "VAROOM!" in a Roy Lichtenstein piece and nine Warholized Peeps at the center of the action. And let's not forget: Admiring the exhibit are Warhol and Sedgwick themselves.
What would Warhol think of the diorama?
"He'd think it was awesome," Greenstein says. "Don't you think, Jane? I think it's like the embodiment of his concept of pop art."
"I imagine Andy Warhol smoked a lot of pot," Dokko says, "and Peeps look pretty tasty if you've got the munchies."
TIP:"If you get Krazy Glue on your hands, don't freak out," Dokko says. Just remember: Acetone-based nail polish remover will get it off, whereas non-acetone-based remover won't.
Peter Byer, 40, Arlington
The dark horse of our contest was Peter Byer's abstract creation, which seems inspired by Maurice Sendak, Lewis Carroll, Edward Gorey and the expressionist cinema of 1920s Germany. "Nightmare in Pink" squeezed into the finals by virtue of its striking tone, shapes and color palette. It's a twisted funhouse of pastel dread, so vivid you can almost hear the vicious hiss of the demon feline bearing down on the sleeping Peep.
We were a little nervous to meet and talk to Byer, whom we imagined as a tortured fringe dioramist with an unpredictable temper. But he isn't.
"I thought about how much of a drag it would be to be a Peep at the bottom of the food chain and having nightmares about getting eaten," says Byer, a gentle-voiced father of two children (who also entered the contest). "I also have a couple cats, and they do like to nibble and mangle the Peeps if they get ahold of them. That was a bit of inspiration, too."
Notice: The bedposts are crayons, and the slippers and vases are made of Sculpey. The dresser and wall mountings (including a portrait of a Peep labeled "Mom") were drawn in ink on white paper, then scanned into a computer and reversed into white lines on a black background. As evidenced by the precision, Byer is, in fact, a graphic designer. But he deals mostly in print and has never worked with models or dioramas. Might we suggest a side career?
TIP: Plan your project by rendering it on paper first. "I like to sketch things out a bit to try to figure it out before I jump into it," Byer says.
Kate Baylor, 25, Washington
Stephanie Montgomery, 27, Arlington
Ethan Fried, 27, Washington
Ann Barrett, 23, Arlington
Heather Cabral, 27, Washington
Ann Barrett loves Peeps. So much so that she gave them up for Lent. Then Stephanie Montgomery approached her and three co-workers at National Geographic and suggested they make a diorama for this year's contest.
"And I said, 'Way to torture me,' " says Barrett.
"Ann was kind of our spiritual guide," Montgomery explains.
"She was one with the Peeps," says Ethan Fried.
Team Peep, as they call themselves, works in communications at National Geographic. And, yes, the group's diorama serves a promotional purpose. "U2 3D," a concert film distributed by National Geographic, is playing on the Imax screen at the National Museum of Natural History through the summer. The diorama depicts the experience of watching it in a theater. Notice Bono's glasses, headband and "One" bracelet, the Edge's knit (rather: felt) cap and the enthused Peep fan waving its cellphone in the air. The lenses on the 25 individual 3-D glasses are made from those colored plastic tabs on file folders.
It took the team three pizza parties ("off the clock, after work!") to complete the diorama. No word on whether National Geographic plans to give the workers a spring bonus, or whether Barrett will now consume the diorama to make up for lost time.
TIP: A hot glue gun works miracles and generally costs only a dollar or two. Also, "buy extra Peeps," Kate Baylor says. "You never know."
Ronald Lloveras, 28, Washington
Sam Chin, 27, Burtonsville
Muriel Chin, 28, Burtonsville
Farrah Fojas, 28, Fort Washington
Brian Martinez, 27, Elkridge
Cristina Martinez, 28, Elkridge
Leah Naranja, 27, Oxon Hill
It's the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and what better way to celebrate than to render a diorama based on a video of Filipino prisoners reenacting its choreography? (Answer: There is no better way.)
Last year, a video shot in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines made the Internet rounds. In it, a few hundred jumpsuited inmates dance gracefully and accurately to "Thriller." Now, Sam Chin and his friends have made it into a diorama (still-life, not motorized, alas). Purple and blue Peeps in orange jumpsuits crook their arms like Jacko and the zombies did a quarter-century ago.
The effort was a year in the making. Chin and his friends from high school wanted to enter the contest last year, but their vision was overly ambitious.
"We tried to do the Trojan War, and we had helmets and bagel-chip shields, and then it looked like a mess," says Chin, who works in computer security. "This year we were going to streamline things, make things cleaner, simpler -- hence a prison yard. Can't get simpler than that."
The group met at Chin's house in Burtonsville for several half-day sessions, forming an assembly line to aid productivity: Some worked on the pipe-cleaner arms and others the jumpsuits. Chin himself was in charge of cutting the foam boards. In the end, the group had a contest finalist that hopefully will be commemorated with its own diorama in this very contest 25 years from now.
TIP:"Get other people's input," Chin suggests. "What one person thinks is the best isn't necessarily the best. We had a couple constructive arguments about how things should be placed and how many Peeps we should use. Originally we wanted close to 100 Peeps, and after we got through 40, we realized it was bit much."