After six years, our annual Peeps Diorama contest has become a survey of all that touches and taunts our collective consciousness, an anthology of absurd, artistic triumphs displayed through malleable marshmallow rabbits and chicks.
And for the first time, our judging mirrored American political culture. For 2012, we extended our voting process and increased voter turnout, allowing the entire Washington Post newsroom to vote for a winner.
Before the contest began, we predicted that Occupy D.C. and its spinoffs would dominate submissions, and they did: There were dozens of Occupy-related entries from the 755 entries received. An OccuPeep entry took on an air of inevitability.
These dark horses wooed with their rhetoric and glitz, each claiming small pockets of rowdy newsroom loyalists.
On Super Tuesday, approximately a third of our newsroom voted. The vote was tight. Exit polls indicated nothing, and a brokered convention looked likely. We almost called in Chris Cillizza to inspect a hanging chad. In the end, the results emulated the lessons of the 2012 Republican primary season: Buzzy cult favorites divided the vote. And the preordained, perfectly executed memorial to the tents of McPherson Square won by a sugary sliver.
As always with this contest, art imitated life, highlighting the farcical fabulousness of human behavior long after submissions stopped pouring in. Read on for profiles of the candidates, um, finalists.
Cori E. Wright, 38, of Falls Church didn’t think she would have so much trouble painting faux cement. An artist and painter by trade, shading the stones in acrylics seemed easier than staging a dozen OccuPeep D.C. vignettes. “I glued the towel down first for grass and then painted the sidewalk and kept adding multiple layers of glaze,” Wright said. “I wanted the towel and cement to look muddied, and for some reason, getting the color right was a struggle for me.”
It was this realistic, almost obsessive precision that led us to choose OccuPeep D.C. as our winner. Wright left no detail to chance. She modeled the entire project in GIMP, a modeling program like Photoshop. “I figured out a Peep is 3.5 percent the size of an average man,” she said. “I scaled the entire project off that.”
She has entered the contest for the past three years, and “noticed you have to pay attention to tiny details to become a finalist.” Which is why she added the rats, our favorite accessory, which she made out of sculpted clay. “Living with the news all the time, you’d always hear about the rats and the ‘V for Vendetta’ mask, which is why I included them.”
She also took photos of McPherson Square, and then straightened them “because taking photos from the street level alters the perspective” before mounting them on Masonite boards.
Her literal interpretation, which took 20 hours to complete, featured clothed neon bunnies holding banners she replicated from actual signs. News crews, police officers and Gen. McPeepson on a horse, made from clay, were modeled from the scenes she observed. “I don’t necessarily agree with the occupiers, but I agree with the right to occupy,” she said. “So, I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I didn’t want to fill the signs with puns. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t one-sided.”
In the Post newsroom, her sincerity and objectivity reigned.
Despite all the Duchess-obsessed, Peeple’s Princess entries we received, the best Royal Wedding re-creation came from a mother-daughter duo who didn’t even watch the Royal Wedding. “We weren’t interested enough to get up so early,” said Susan Arnold, 50, of Arlington, who built “Just Peep’d,” with her 17-year-old daughter, Isabel, a senior at Yorktown High School. First-time diorama builders, they wanted to do one last craft project together before Isabel goes off to college.
Creating Kate’s lace Alexander McQueen gown, for which they used tulle and paper, wasn’t terribly challenging. “It’s easier to use than fabric when you’re dressing a Peep.” Instead, they pored over Princess Beatrice and Eugenie’s hats. “They’re so easily recognizable — and easy to exaggerate,” Susan said. “They’re perfect material for Peeps.” And pale pink pipe cleaners worked nicely for Beatrice’s outlandish Philip Treacy topper.
Other renderings, including the bulging eyes of those grumpy flower girls, clothed in napkins and tulle, and Peepa’s cowl-necked gown, made us swoon. Equally impressive were Wills’s and Harry’s stately uniforms, adorned with sashes made from ribbon.
“Isabel did the men, and I did the women. It’s funny, because weddings are about the bride, but we put the uniforms first. They were more intricate,” Susan said.
The car, built from glitter-covered cardboard paper, resembled Prince Charles’s vintage Aston Martin. Even the queen’s yellow ensemble stood out amidst the backdrop of a WestPeepster Abbey, where hand-drawn Peeps statues adorned the façade.
But building this diorama hasn’t transformed them into obsessive Kate watchers.
“We don’t follow the monarchy too much,” Susan said. “We might be a little more interested now, though.”
It was only a matter of time before a new category of culture joined art, movies and video games: Facebook’s meme of the moment, “What People Think I Do,” is now cemented in Peep lore. Megan Hustings and Rachel Hamilton, both 32, are weirdly obsessed with Peeps. Hamilton, an editor from Baltimore, and Hustings, a nonprofit administrator from Washington, are best friends who “talk about them all the time, even when we’re not building dioramas,” Hustings said. The seasoned digitally obsessed diorama builders — they submitted an “Angry Birds” entry last year — got the idea for a “What Peeple Think Peeps Are” entry when Hustings was brainstorming campaigns for her job at a nonprofit. “One of the interns suggested making a meme for our campaign, and then the idea just popped into my head. ‘Let’s do it for Peeps, too,’ ” she said.
They spent 30 hours building the mini-scenes, using clay, fabric and paper to illustrate six perspectives on Peeps. No detail was too small: Peeps skeletons, clay fingers, bunny money and the formula for a glucose molecule added humor to the work. “We actually built two scenes for ‘What Peeps Think They Are.’ Everyone holds themselves in high esteem, even though they’re a lowly candy,” Hustings said, musing on the inner monologue of marshmallows. “So, we made doctor and police officer Peeps. But then we got silly and decided to make the karate Peep.”
Hustings thinks their diorama is timely. “We’re entering this whole new world. The contest tells us where society is today, and as temporary as memes are, we remember them.”
Did they philosophize over turning meme into art while they built the diorama?
“No, we were focused,” Hustings said. “We were the Peeps dream team.”
Derek Hills and Brinda Krishnan, both 38, have serious and arguably staid professions. Hills is an IT project manager. Krishnan is a psychiatrist. But deep down, they’re hard-core crafters.
“I grew up in that whole Fugazi scene,” Krishnan said. “I’ve been going there since there was a Black Cat. I love that venue. We live near it, so we just know that outside scene.”
And that smoky, bustling place they re-created with bearded hipsters, jumbo slices, bunnies clad in flannel, and, yes, even a stolen bicycle, does justice to every weekend show at the popular 14th Street nightclub.
It took nine days to build “The Black Peep,” an homage to what Hills calls “a local arts scene fixture.” Krishnan designed the costumes from old fabric swatches. “I’ve done a lot of work in miniature. I did my residency in Portland, so let’s just say I’m good at folding fabrics.”
Krishnan crafted knit dresses from old socks and found a blue book cover to make jeans. “It would have been hard to make skinny jeans for Peeps out of denim.”
The hardest part, though, was getting those Peepsters to stand up.
“We had to figure out the right type of glue; the pipe cleaners would eat away at the marshmallow, and they’d fall,” Hills said.
The best part of their homage to the local music venue is the couple’s inside joke. “We’re living vicariously through the Peeps,” she said. “There’s a poster for ‘Not My Sister’ on the wall, and that’s my band. Derek didn’t tell me he was adding that. The Peeps are coming to see my band!”
Maybe the real Black Cat will take the hint.
He’s never seen “Gladiator” or been to Rome, but Mark Rivetti, 28, of Washington had a tiny wire gate he wanted to use for his diorama entry. “I had the gate, and then I had the idea for the lion, then I added a gladiator,” he said. “Then I figured I might as well incorporate a lot of Peeps.”
So he built the Colosseum.
“I also like to pay tribute to scenes from the past, things everyone is familiar with.”
By far the largest entry we’ve ever received, this three-level architectural feat re-creates the man-vs.-beast of Roman antiquity. To portray the gladiator games, Rivetti built Peep sculptures and the body of the lion from painted clay, and incorporated Peeps in unexpected ways, using them as materials, not just figures.
“I had the sugar-free chick Peeps, and I thought I could make them into a lion’s head,” said Rivetti, who turned them on their side and colored them with acrylic paint. Other impressive details included the hundred-plus onlookers clothed in togas that his girlfriend, Meg Waltner, made. Judges here appreciated the gladiator’s shield. “It’s a knob from my kitchen cabinet,” Rivetti said. “I’ll want that back.”
It took him 50 hours to build the semi-circular amphitheater from foam core board. “Sizing it was the hardest part,” said the professional architect. “The slopes of the stands were the most technically challenging.”
Rivetti was a finalist three years ago for “Peepativity,” a diorama based on the lithograph print by artist M.C. Escher. This year, Rivetti chose to include an underground element — where, yes, lions are munching on Peeps — after seeing the winning entry of 2011, the Chilean CoPeepapo Mine Rescue. “I [also] did a Chilean mine rescue last year, but didn’t include an underground element,” he said. “I wanted to challenge myself this year.”
Despite his careful planning, his creation did have one close call. “My cat jumped in it at one point. ... Luckily, nothing was destroyed.”