The Peeps diorama contest is supposed to celebrate the very best of the District: creativity and spring. Our contestants did their part, bringing us delightful dioramas inspired by the Oscars, Obamas, and art history. We present the winners of our second annual Peeps diorama contest. You can also see these dioramas in person at the Cherry Blossom Pop-Up Bar in Shaw until April 2.
These finalists forced us to ask the difficult questions: Which dioramas, through concept and execution, draw you into their imagined, sugary worlds? Which creations fully embrace the Peep as a medium for artistic expression? In the words of one of our finalists, Kathleen Canedo, “We’re talking about Peeps as art. It just seems kind of ridiculous, but I love it.” —City Paper Staff
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
1. Night at the Speepeasy
By David Kirkpatrick
The Takoma Park dad and D.C. native can thank his 8-year-old daughter for the inspiration to build a Peep-themed speakeasy, which features a rowdy crowd of Peeps alongside a billiards table, wine bar, and jazz pianist—all tucked behind an empty drugstore, as “two oblivious cops” patrol the sidewalk. “She’s my muse,” Kirkpatrick says of his daughter, who urged him to build the diorama after a prohibition-themed family reunion last year saw the Kirkpatricks decked out in flapper gear. It took him dozens of hours over three weeks to build the bar. It’s the first and (likely) last time he’ll participate in the contest, he says, after spending “way too much” on the teeny beer mugs and wine bottles. Look closely and you’ll see miniature printouts of period art, some of which hang in the National Gallery. Girl Scout cookie boxes he bought from a local troop provide the diorama its structural integrity.
2. Cherry Blossom Peep Up Bar
By Megan Walline
To talk to Megan Walline is to get a masterclass in diorama making. “If you put a top on a diorama sometimes it makes it really dark,” she says, explaining the translucent air conditioner filter that suspends flowers from the ceiling of the “Cherry Blossom Peep Up Bar” while letting in natural light.
In a meta twist, the runner-up for this year’s contest captures the very bar in which it is now displayed. Don’t dwell too much on the rip in the space-time continuum this diorama has created; instead focus on its beauty. This display captures the vernal explosion in Shaw in breathtaking detail. Everywhere you look, a new detail catches your eye, drawing you further into this Peep world with uncanny verisimilitude. The actual Pop-Up Bar displays lucky cats behind the bar, but “Peeps wouldn’t have cats, they would have chicks,” says Walline. The diorama is full of these details—Peep patrons hold phones with freshly snapped selfies (of Peeps) and enjoy cocktails beneath Godzilla and twinkling lights.
3. Solar Eclipse: For Peeps Sake Wear Your Glasses
By Ella, Jeanne, Sam, and George Theoharis and Richard Shin
Flip the little switch installed on the back wall of this diorama, and the sun lights up. Move the paper moon over the sun, and find a translucent Peep bunny in its face. This depiction of last summer’s solar eclipse took a team of five people about three days to complete. The group’s visionary, 13-year-old Ella Theoharis, has been making Peeps dioramas with her aunt since she was 8 or 9, according to her father George. Last year they started to get serious about it, and this year they won a finalist spot. The team brainstormed the major events of the past year and immediately agreed on the eclipse when they came up with it. “My aunt and I worked on the clothes. My brother worked on the signs. My dad worked on the background,” says Ella. They based their recreation of the first family on a photo of President Donald Trump staring at the sun without his glasses on, and added in pro-science and environmentalist protesters.
4. The Shape of Sugar
By Lindsay Routt
Lindsay Routt’s inaugural submission to the diorama contest is an intricate rendition of a scene from Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (white jelly-beans-as-eggs included). “I’d recently seen the movie and loved the set design. It was so moody, dark, rainy,” Routt says of the film, which she considers the perfect marriage of romance and horror. But upon looking at more detailed photos of the set, she was struck by how much color was actually included in the design. “There are these crazy underground bunkers, and all this life and brilliance to it,” she says. She spent three days on the project, which took over her entire dining room. But the biggest fan of “The Shape of Sugar?” Routt’s dog, who kept trying to lick the frosting off of fish-man’s body.
5. The Colopeepum
By Gwendolyn Boe, Bryce Davis, and Taylor Ramirez
The empeeperor gazes down on two gladiators, one slain in the name of sport, his opponent’s spear sticking out of his sugary stomach. The other is triumphant, and gazing out at the peeple of the Roman empire. Are you not entertained? “We were just trying to emulate kind of what the Colosseum was and the purpose that it served,” says Taylor Ramirez, one of the three Poolesville, Maryland, high school students who created the Colopeepum. Their creation is full of details sure to please an art history teacher (specifically their art history teacher, who assigned the project). They say the different colors of Peeps represent the social strata of ancient Rome: Blue and yellow Peeps take in the action from the nosebleeds while upper class purple Peeps get a front-row seat to the carnage.
On the exterior, deconstructed and reconstituted Peeps represent the Colosseum’s Doric columns. (The creators do not mention any efforts to recreate its Ionic and Corinthian supports.) An expert spray painting job gives these Peeps the feel of a true ancient ruin, and the giant empeeperor gives the whole affair a sense of grandeur.
6. Peeper Curry is Awed by Marshmallow Obama at the National Peeptrait Gallery
By Kathleen and Avery Canedo
“Probably like everybody else, as soon as I saw that photo, it was inspiring. It was adorable. Every part of it was great,” says Kathleen Canedo, co-creator of “Peeper Curry is Awed by Marshmallow Obama at the National Peeptrait Gallery.” She, like many of this year’s entrants, drew inspiration from the unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery. But rather than depicting the throngs of people waiting to see the paintings, she captured an intimate moment: 2-year-old Parker Curry wonderstruck by the first lady.
Canedo and her daughter Avery’s careful study of the viral photo by Ben Hines has paid off: The flooring of this diorama exactly matches the tiles in the portrait gallery, the green bathroom door is a perfect mimic, and the wall text is identical to the wording that accompanies Amy Sherald’s painting. Note also Peeper Curry’s two-tone jacket and Marshmallow Obama’s face. And while it’s one thing to faithfully recreate the details of a real life event, it’s another entirely to capture reality’s essence. Here, Curry cranes her sugary head upward with all the awe Americans young and old feel in Obama’s presence.
7. White House Ninja Peeper 2018: Who Will Stay The Course?
By Susanna Eisenman
The four-time diorama contest participant (and two-time semifinalist) created an American Ninja Warrior: Trump edition for her entry. This is the first time she’s made an overtly political Peep diorama. Eisenman include an array of departed White House Peeps, including former communications director Sean Spicer. Unluckily for her, she turned in her diorama just two days before the sudden ousting of State Department chief Rex Tillerson. “I would have loved to include him,” Eisenman says. In past years, she made a Stephen Hawking-themed diorama, and one that gestured to a Girl Scout-marijuana scandal.
8. D.C. Peeps Take Pants Off For Charity
By Ashley Casper
As a veteran Peep diorama-maker, Ashley Casper says that the hardest part is the spacing of the Peeps within the scene she’s creating. Her entry this year, a depiction of the annual Cupid’s Undie Run, is personal. Casper volunteers as the race director, and has been doing the run for four years. The February run is a fundraiser that supports finding a cure to Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder affecting 1 in 3,000 at birth. Last year Casper came in 8th place for a Peep-based recreation of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition, and she was a finalist in the Post’s version of the contest before that. She says she skipped the competition one year, but her friends kept asking her where her diorama was, so she went back at it.
9. Berpeepni’s Medusa
By Kenza Tahri, Anna Akdag, and Emma Moon
In place of snakes, Medusa’s head is covered in Peeps—and painted with several layers of stone-colored acrylics to achieve a “dramatic Baroque effect.” That’s how Kenza Tahri describes the Medusa she created with collaborators Anna Akdag and Emma Moon. Tahri really wanted to create one of Salvador Dalí’s works out of Peeps, but after much deliberation, she and her partners settled on the Medusa, largely because they felt “Berpeepni” (instead of Bernini) was the best Peep pun they could come up with for a classic work of art. Medusa’s head is a styrofoam base covered in clay, and the team replaced Medusa’s pained expression with the traditional three-dot face of a Peep.
10. Transient Peepbow
By Grace Bodmer, Julie Corfman, and Carly Dacanay
This diorama is based on artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Transient Rainbow,” which appeared in fireworks over the East River in New York City on a summer evening in 2002. One of the diorama makers, Grace Bodmer, says she’s never been to New York City, but she plans to go soon. She made the diorama with Carly Dacanay and Julie Corfman. “To achieve the dissolving yet radiant effects of Guo-Qiang’s fireworks, we intertwined small lights into the spray painted cotton ball rainbow,” the team writes. “Peep bunnies from all sides of the river watch in awe, some from boats and some on the shore. The blue Peep bunny to the far left holds the detonator that set off the fireworks from the shore.”