Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peeps as Art/Expression

In my past couple of posts, I've made reference to my somewhat unhealthy obsession with Peeps, the ubiquitous seasonal marshmallow treat. This is a condition that presented itself in my adult life. I never knew Peeps as a child. I'm not sure if that was a function of geography (did they have Peeps in California in the 70s? - real ones - not drug induced psychedelic rainbows of chicks and bunnies) or if my parents simply were not attuned to them. I can't recall ever seeing a Peep until my late twenties. They simply weren't on my radar for the first 20+ years of my life.

Then I met my husband and joined the Roberts family, and the Roberts know Peeps. Some of my earliest and happiest encounters with my husband's family were Easter gatherings at his parents' house. His mother always had dishes full of Easter candy, and one of them was always a colorful jar of Peeps. Anyone who knows something about Peeps knows that there are two schools of thought about how they taste best - fresh and squishy or aged and firm (i.e. stale - this is the complete opposite of our human forms - firm when we're young and squishy when we're old). The preference must not be altogether genetic because the Roberts family has a healthy mix of both. The lid of the Peeps jar would be alternately left off or on during the day to either preserve the soft texture or speed up the aging process depending on who was last to reach for one.

My Peep obsession is not unhealthy by virtue of eating them, however. I don't. I have never liked marshmallow (unless toasted and melty on the end of a stick or roasted and placed between two graham crackers with a piece of a Hershey's chocolate). So Peeps have never appealed to me as food. I'm not sure they really even constitute "food" (closer to styrofoam packaging material), but the bright colors and simplicity of form have always been irresistible to me, and over the years, I have become a true Peeps groupie to rival any member of the Roberts family. I would venture to say my devotion to Peeps has surpassed all of them.

When the little neon critters start showing up in stores in the spring, it's all I can do not to fill my shopping cart with every conceivable shape and color. Pink, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, red, chicks, bunnies, eggs... It's mind blowing. And even more appealing than the look of them is the FEEL of them when they're fresh. The slightly sandpapery but smooth texture of the sugar that contains the improbable squishiness of the marshmallow. (Mr. Whipple and I share a fetish - his for Charmin and mine for Peeps...). Last but not least, they set a standard for simplicity of form that is unparalleled.

The purist in me is most fond of the yellow chicks and pink bunnies. Yellow and pink were the original colors, along with white, in the early part of the 20th century when it took 27 hours for Sam Born (patriarch of the Just Born company - even the name is adorable) to make just one marshmallow chick. The pink and yellow perfectly echo the spring colors in my yard - the yellow forsythia and the pink weeping cherry and camellia. These are the two colors most often found in Peep novelties. I have yellow chick and pink bunny light strings and refrigerator magnets. Lenox even does a Peeps series of collectible figurines. I have the salt and pepper shakers. I haven't gone so far as to buy the Swarovski crystal Peep, and I can't imagine I would (unless they make it in color instead of clear. Then perhaps...). Here are my two latest, favorite Peeps things - my mousepad and T-shirt...

And here are some really cute ideas for ways to use Peeps in baking. I might actually be able to handle a Peeps S'more...

Of course, marshmallow Peeps these days come in a rainbow of colors, most bright or pastel, but I've seen red ones and heard tell of sinister black ones (a murder of Peeps?). It's this palette of repetitive brilliant color that must have given someone the idea to use Peeps as an artistic medium. Several years ago, I saw a feature in the Washington Post announcing the winners of a Peeps diorama contest. Our family was enthralled by the level of artistic expression and floored by the potential (this was at the peak of my kids' elementary school diorama project involvement, so the art form appealed on many levels). I decreed that WE would enter this contest the following year.

As February approached the next year, we started gathering our supplies (I say we, but this was purely my obsession. The kids just went with it and my husband tried to ignore it). I gave into that old urge and filled my cart with every imaginable color and shape of Peep. The kids and I all chose our subject and went to work on our best Peep creations. We lived for weeks in a haze of neon peep dust and sneezed in technicolor. I don't even want to think about the effect inhaled Peep sugar might have on our respiratory systems down the road.

In the end, we had four entries for the contest - two for me and one for each of the kids. Here they are in all their sugary glory:

Henry's "One Giant Peep for Mankind"
Christy's "Peepacle on the Hudson"
Kathryn's "America's Next Top Peep"
Christy's "Goodnight Peep"

So you're thinking, "Surely one of you won, right?" Well, as it turns out, the year we made our entry, the Post received over 1000 entries for the contest. That made me feel better until I took a look at the top five finalists and got a bitter taste in my mouth. Here is one of those top five:

2009 Peeps Diorama Contest Finalist

I know, I know! How is this possible!? They got me on execution maybe, but I don't think it captures the event NEARLY as well as mine. Serious sour grapes on my part. But as if that were not bad enough, here is one of the five finalists from last year (a year AFTER my entry):

2010 Peeps Diorama Contest Finalist

OK, I'm sorry, but I was truly robbed on this one. Once again, they might have me on execution, but come on, Peeps boxes for furniture had to be worth some points, and my idea and entry for this diorama came a full year earlier! Clearly I haven't recovered from the injustice. It still gets me worked up thinking about it. My only explanation is that with over 1000 entries, they just overlooked mine. Maybe one day I will let it go...

So my Peeps artistic spirit may have been a little crushed by my contest experience, but I'm still a huge fan of the event, and today is the big day when this year's winners will be announced. Keep an eye out for it in today's Washington Post - either online or in print. Maybe it will inspire you to enter next year or just create your own Peep art for fun. They had some cool framed Peep art on the wall at the Peeps and Company store at National Harbor. My son really wanted one, but they were selling for over $100!  I told him his Mommy is a pretty decent Peep artist in her own right, and I could make him one for a fraction of the cost. Having seen me in the throes of Peep art madness before, he replied, "Nevermind".

As I was writing this, the winners of this year's contest were posted. Aaaghhh, the excitement! Here is the link:

2011 Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest Results

I have to go now. Peeps out!

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