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2016 Peeps Diorama Contest

And the winner is...

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Springtime in D.C. means temperatures that swing from 70 to 40 in a matter of days. But there’s no surer sign that winter is over than our annual Peeps diorama contest. We harvested a bumper crop of Trump-themed entries this year — the contest’s 10th. Check out the winning submission, a slideshow of wacky also-rans and 360-degree views of all five finalists.

If you're in the D.C. area, see the top 5 dioramas on display at 140 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Md., from March 26 through April 24.

A closer look at the winner

The presidential election may be months away, but this satirical take on the Republican candidate’s brain — seen as a command center like the one in the 2015 Pixar film “Inside Out” — was a yuuuge winner, garnering more votes than all the other entries combined. It depicts a moment during the Aug. 6 Fox News Republican debate, as Trump is looking at moderator and nemesis Megyn Kelly.

Between the characters Fear and Disgust, an Anger Peep is poised to press a large red button, while Joy and Sadness are corralled behind a fence. Portraits of former wives Marla Maples and Ivana Trump adorn the interior, which has been trimmed in marble and gold.

According to Alex Baker, who spoke on behalf of the three-person creative team, several ideas were batted around before the group settled on a caricature of The Donald (who was, unsurprisingly, a popular source of inspiration this year).

“It just made us laugh,” he says. “[That] is an important consideration when you spend a lot of time on a Peeps diorama that you should probably be using for office work.”

Baker is no stranger to the Peeps winner’s circle. In 2014, he and his pal, Mary Clare Peate, were members of a team that took top prize for a much more sober submission, inspired by the 1963 March on Washington.

Along with girlfriend Leslie Eldridge, they’re part of a circle of D.C. friends who met in graduate school for public policy and get together once a year to work on a Peeps diorama.

Baker works for the Department of Health and Human Services, Peate is in economics education and Eldridge toils for an international-aid non-governmental organization. “Lots of only-in-Washington jobs,” Baker jokes.

For the division of labor here, Baker oversaw the interior architecture, including the wall of memory balls (represented by bulk marbles that florists use to anchor flower arrangements). Peate sewed the costumes, and Eldridge sculpted and painted the head, which was topped with blond hair extensions. “Leslie spent 12 hours staring at pictures of Trump,” Baker says. “She gave up her time and her sanity.”


Peeps’ Day at the Beach, Designed by Peepitecture

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The National Building Museum’s hugely popular “Beach” installation — which turned the museum’s Great Hall into an oceanic play area for two months last summer — used nearly 1 million translucent plastic balls to create the effect. The Brundage family needed only 8,500 tiny plastic pearls to re-create it.

Working from an idea generated by Nevan, who had attended a summer program at the Building Museum, the three collaborators set out to capture the essence of the installation, which was designed by the art partnership known as Snarkitecture (called Peepitecture here) and attracted long lines. Though most of the diorama’s visitors enjoyed carefree summer fun involving Peepsicles, swim rings and beach balls, some lost personal items. If you look through the plexiglass cutaway the Brundages built into the diorama, you can see a trove of loose coins and lost shoes. A lost-and-found box holds a tiny engagement ring, evoking the real one that went missing (but was found weeks later).

This is Mom and Dad’s first foray into the world of Peeps dioramas. Nevan is the veteran, having worked on two submissions that were featured in KidsPost. The then-9-year-old came up with the idea of a Peep in a rowboat fishing for — what else? — flip-flops.

The idea of grown-ups making art out of Peeps may sound silly, but once you let go of your inhibitions, who can resist? Kind of like jumping into a giant ball pit.


Peepilton the Musical!

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Aminiaturized version of Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre may be the closest either maker of this diorama gets to seeing “Hamilton.” The hit musical is effectively sold out for months to come, with prime seats going for more than $1,000 on secondary-sales sites.

Created by D.C. documentarian Aviva Kempner (“Rosenwald,” “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”) and her cousin, actress Sara Chase (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), “Peepilton the Musical!” captures a tableau of marshmallow bunnies in five of the show’s big roles: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and, along a catwalk in the back, sisters Peggy and Angelica Schuyler, as well as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, who was Hamilton’s wife. (Onstage, the singing trio, dressed in bustled gowns, has been likened to an early America version of Destiny’s Child.) Two lucky theatergoers, holding copies of Peepbill magazine, look on from the side.

Stage lights, above and below, set everything off to glorious dramatic effect, using key-ring mini flashlights whose lenses have been colored with Sharpie pens. The costumes were created with wide cloth ribbon — a secret Chase says she picked up over four years of submitting to Peeps contests with Kempner.

Chase, who worked on Broadway (“First Date the Musical”) before moving to television, brought her knowledge of stagecraft to the construction of the scene. But she says it’s something more ineffable than lights, sets and costumes that completes the transformation of humble confections into the cast of a hot Broadway musical.

In a word, she says, the secret to a good Peeps diorama is magic. “Isn’t that what theater is all about?”


The Ernest Shacklepeep Expedition Escapes the Icy Jaws of Antarctica

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Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton led three expeditions to Antarctica, including his famous visit from 1914 to 1916, during which his ship, the Endurance, was immobilized by ice and eventually crushed. Janet and Jim Heins have journeyed to that frozen, dangerous continent twice.

Retired employees of Montgomery County’s school system — she was an art teacher, he an administrator — the Heinses are inveterate travelers. In fact, this interview took place the night before the couple set sail for Barbados on a five-masted clipper ship. “We’ve seen pretty much everywhere we want to see that we can see,” Janet says. (They haven’t been to the Great Pyramids yet, she explains, because Egypt is too unstable.) She’s also an inveterate Peeps diorama creator; this is her fifth.

This diorama depicts Shackleton’s crew, adrift on a landscape of crumbled packaging foam. After abandoning the Endurance to camp on the ice, they are embarking on a 10-month odyssey to reach safety. The men’s sweaters are made from old socks, their beards from chenille stems, or pipe cleaners. A flock of penguins — fashioned from painted Peep chicks — is “only too glad to see them go,” Janet jokes, since the crew had been eating the birds to survive.

None of those details is essential to reading, in a single glance, the dramatic power of the tableau. “This is a wrecked ship,” says Janet, who made the craft out of cardboard, wood and twine. One thing she’s learned from years of art teaching (and diorama making): “If you need a long explanation, you’re lost.”


Peeps Surf the Gravitational Waves: #einsteinwasright

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When news broke in February that scientists had confirmed the existence of gravitational waves — a phenomenon Albert Einstein had predicted a century ago in his theory of relativity — Libby Hendrix was digging through her recycling for a copy of the Washington Post Magazine announcing this year’s diorama contest. She’s the kind of person, she says, who maintains a running list of ideas for the annual competition, which she first entered in 2014 after retiring from the Department of Labor.

All those other ideas were tossed out the window when she stumbled on a news item about the recent scientific discovery, which one commentator compared to “ripples in a pond.” That liquid metaphor sparked Hendrix’s work, which imagines Peeps surfing on deep blue cosmic waves (cut from glittered flexible foam) while an extra-large marshmallow bunny Einstein — clad in a sweater made from a child’s mitten and with a cloud of unruly “hair” borrowed from a white feather boa — looks on. Einstein’s peepers — fashioned from candy eyeballs that Hendrix snipped to resemble the scientist’s deeply hooded orbs — complete the caricature. The leather of his desk chair? Black duct tape. Scrapbooking stickers supplied the mini surfboards.

Inspired by a famous photo of the blackboard in Einstein’s Princeton office, a tiny chalkboard hangs on the wall. Don’t expect it to illuminate other mysteries of the universe, however. The equations on it are mostly gibberish, says Hendrix, adding that, if you look at it upside down, “you may or may not be able to see some Peeps in there.”

More on peeps

Gallery: The semifinalists

In this 10th year of our annual Peeps Diorama Contest, we got artistic commentary on Trump, marriage equality, Trump, ‘Hamilton,’ Trump, sports and more Trump.

Gallery: A decade of winners

A look back at all the winners from the past 10 years of the Peeps Diorama Contest