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Behind the scenes of making a giant Peeps sculpture for Carroll County festival

Kasey Nicholson makes a "Peeppa Pig" entry for this year's upcoming "Peep Show," featuring marshmallow Peeps.

Rob and Toni Vargo may not live in Carroll County anymore, but that hasn’t stopped them from partaking in the area’s largest festival of the year: The PEEPshow.

For weeks, the couple from St. Mary’s County has been building, gluing and carefully crafting their version of the Navy’s Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet aircraft as a tribute to Rob’s job as director of Atlantic Test Ranges at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. They call it the “Peep Angel,” and it’s a labor of love that binds them not just to their Westminster roots but also to each other.

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“It’s been an adventure, sometimes he wants to borrow the glue gun, and I’m like, no!” said Toni Vargo, whose handwoven Peeps-themed quilt won fifth place in online voting and a special achievement award last year. “It’s amazing what you can do with hot glue and wood and Peeps.”

The PEEPshow started in 2008 after Sandy Oxx, the former executive director of the Carroll County Arts Council, participated in The Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama Contest and started envisioning it on a larger scale. Oxx sought to replicate the idea — but instead of having entrants submit dioramas for viewers to look at online, she thought to open it up as an interactive art exhibit and allow participants to create anything Peeps related to put on display.

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Will Abbott, the arts council’s director of operations, said opening the show to the public and allowing onlookers to cast votes both in person on the web has helped put Carroll County on the map.

“It’s the biggest event as far as notoriety — It’s the only time we get national publicity,” Abbott said, adding that some 25,000 visitors from all over the world attended last year’s show. “Anecdotally, it’s the biggest thing people seem to know us for.”

Serving as the arts council’s most important fundraising source of the year, the PEEPshow offers a range of prizes for those who place in the in-person and online voting categories. Aside from the glory, winners can take home goodies including trophies, key chains and even score a chance to visit the parent company’s headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa.

Kasey Nicholson, the 2018 PEEPshow winner in online voting for her sculpture of Pua and Hei-Hei from Disney’s “Moana,” said she began plotting this year’s submission in January. She settled on Peppa and George from Nickelodeon’s “Peppa Pig” cartoon, calling it “Peeppa Pig.”

The McDaniel College senior, who studies art, said while entering the contest requires more time and money than many might assume, she looks forward to watching the crowds wade through the displays each year.

“People will come up to you and compliment you and take pictures — it’s honest,” she said. “I’m always impressed by how many people come through, and I’m always surprised by the age range.”

On a recent Friday in March, Nicholson glued the final Peeps onto her pigs. It took her a couple weeks to construct the bases, utilizing materials like styrofoam, newspaper, masking tape, stick-on “googly” eyes, spray paint and a cup for Peppa Pig’s snout. She methodically snipped the heads off each Peep with scissors so that they laid flat on the pigs’ bodies.

“I actually don’t even like Peeps,” she said as she stuck each headless marshmallow into place, one by one. “It makes it less distracting to work on.”

But in Littlestown, Pa., Jen Myers and her family actively fight off temptation, as the foursome starts purchasing Peeps right after Easter each year so they can buy them on clearance. This year — fresh off a fifth-place victory in the in-person voting category for their “Bobsledding Bunnies” submission — they’re embracing the oversized-entry category with a 6-foot-tall Christmas tree covered head to toe in Peeps, complete with marshmallow-coated “presents” underneath and a star on top.

They hope to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that not only wows voters but also fits in their truck.

“We like to be crafty, and I’m lucky that my husband has the carpentry skills,” Myers said. Her sons, 11-year-old Connor and 7-year-old Jacob, help with cutting, pasting and assembling the marshmallows. “It’s a family-fun project.”

Jacob and Connor don’t have any other friends in Littlestown who compete in the PEEPshow, and they said it’s a source of pride for them to take part in something unique and bigger than themselves.

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They’ll start thinking about next year’s entry in a couple weeks.

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