It's a new movement: Peep art

Artists turning Easter fare into marshmallow works

March 24, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun reporter

Dee Krasnansky guided a hot glue gun around the base of a miniature pine tree, then applied a piece of fluffy white material.

On a papier-mache hill behind the tree, a purple marshmallow Peep on Popsicle-stick skis stood poised to coast down the incline. Below, another purple chick on wire skates glided across an aluminum-foil pond, while a yellow sibling carrying a red bag of tiny gifts prepared to march through snow.

Krasnansky and Barbara Becker paused to examine their work. Titled Lit Chicks, the scene depicted the four seasons and featured chicks toting small cardboard books throughout the year.

"We need more Peeps, don't we?" Becker said.

Playing with their food? Far from it. The Eldersburg librarians were creating art.

At a time of year when many households are brimming with the brightly colored candy, Becker and Krasnansky were crafting their entry for the Carroll County Arts Council's Peeps Show next month.

"It's a fun thing to do, because it gets your mind going," Becker said. "And once you start, more ideas start coming."

The event has ignited the imaginations of dozens of area artists and taps into a nationwide enthusiasm for the marshmallowy confection as something more than an Easter staple.

"The whole trend toward Peeps fans creating with Peeps, whether it's recipes or crafts, has definitely been going up," said Ellie Deardorff, a spokeswoman for Just Born, the Bethlehem, Pa.-based company that has made the sugar chicks, later followed by bunnies and other shapes, since 1953.

This year, the company knows of more than 15 newspapers throughout the nation that are putting on Peeps contests - mostly diorama competitions, and at least one Easter bonnet contest, Deardorff said. And scores of Web sites, YouTube videos and even a documentary are dedicated to the chicks and their marshmallow relatives.

The arts council's competition goes a step further, welcoming sculptures, photography, computer-generated art and film. A live-art statue, inspired by 1950s horror movies, also is expected.

Whatever the format, Peeps must be the stars.

"I hope that we pull it off well enough that it can become a tradition," said Sandy Oxx, the executive director of the arts council who hatched the idea.

More than 100 entries are registered for the event, which will run April 3-8 at Westminster's Carroll Arts Center. With promises of works with titles such as Sneak Peeps, Peeps of the Caribbean, Peeptasia and Peep on a Half Shell, the imaginations of artists in Carroll and beyond seem to have taken flight.

"When you think about art, people think it's so serious," said Missie Wilcox, a council board member who said she "had a ball" creating her entry, Village Peeple. The piece features a Peeps bunny mosh pit and chicks dressed as a Native American, a cowboy, a police officer and a construction worker, Wilcox said.

"This is a show that says you don't have to be so serious about art," Wilcox said. "You can create these really fun, imaginative masterpieces out of marshmallow and sugar."

Susan Williamson, the council's visual arts coordinator, is an art historian who usually paints in the style of 17th-century Dutch still-life masters. She said she went from raising her eyebrow at the idea and into a full-blown "Peeps role." She re-created classic works of such artists as Andy Warhol and Vincent van Gogh, in Masterpeeps, she said.

"Who knew? When I was little ... they were the last thing to get eaten, and generally, when my Easter basket was pulled out the following year, there was one petrified at the bottom," Williamson said. "I have 500 more ideas. I just had to stop myself."

The flowering of Peeps creativity could speak not only to the candy's almost indisputable cuteness but also to the artistic possibilities of reappropriating everyday objects, said Deborah Vance, a McDaniel College communication professor.

"We're given so many prefabricated things, with Wal-Mart and Target, mass-produced objects," said Vance, who teaches classes in media and culture. "It's a sort of rebellion against the prefabricated world."

After traveling the country to interview friends and foes of the feathered fluff, Peeps documentarian Matthew Beals said people seem to have their own theories about the source of America's fascination.

"You have those two beady eyes looking out at you; I think they sort of look a bit unfinished," said Beals, whose documentary is called The Power of the Peep. "They're sort of like this blank slate. ... [People] see their own way to sort of complete the Peep."

David Ottogalli, a Peeps artist in Washington, has been working with the marshmallow medium for more than a decade. He said the magic could lie in the relative rarity of the vividly colored chicks and bunnies that only flock - and hop - to store shelves at certain times of year.

"They're a unique candy," said Ottogalli, who has designed, among other creations, an 8-foot shrine of yellow, white, pink and blue Peeps. "It's like heralding springtime coming in."

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