With a decade, hundreds of entries and thousands of Peeps marshmallows under its belt, the Carroll County Arts Council's annual PEEPshow — now entering its 10th year — is showing few signs of slowing down.
The idea for the PEEPshow first spun out of The Washington Post's Peeps Diorama Contest which debuted the year before. Those used to the spectacle of Carroll's PEEPshow might be surprised to find out that the inciting event was very different and far less elaborate than our local version of the same event.
The contest limited Peeps pieces to dioramas with none of the famous large sculptures or multimedia variations that make the PEEPshow so distinctive, and more surprisingly, the contest had no physical location. The only way to view the dioramas was in the newspaper or online.
One of the entrants of that inaugural diorama contest was Carroll Arts Center executive director Sandy Oxx, who entered "The Peep with the Pearl Earring" into the contest. After her Peep failed to place, Oxx decided to take the concept and run with it.
At the start of 2008, they began promoting the idea of the PEEPshow — then stylized as Peep Show — in their pamphlets and at the Carroll Arts Center. The first pitch for the contest read:
"Immortalize a moment in history. Celebrate your favorite pop icon. Recreate a masterpiece painting ... as long as it features marshmallow Peeps. We're looking for wacky dioramas, sculptures, mosaics, movies and other works of art for this display that will prove that art doesn't always have to be so serious!"
During the first year, about 50 people entered pieces into the PEEPshow, which emphasized the multimedia aspects of the contest to further differentiate it from The Washington Post original.
While this year, the PEEPshow will last a full 13 days, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day, in its inaugural year, it was only open for six days, with half of those days only offering public hours from 1 to 4 p.m.
The PEEPshow was enough of a success to return for another year in 2009, this time expanded to eight full days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition to the expansion of hours, the second PEEPshow saw an explosion of participants, with 150 taking part up from the 50 participants in the first year. Though the participation increased in the second year, the pieces were still a far cry from the huge displays you'll see in 2017.
On opening day in 2009, the Times ran a special section titled "Heaps of Peeps" where the paper highlighted some of the largest PEEPs pieces, including lacrosse sticks made out of 150 Peeps, a Peep's Kitchen diorama with just 45 and Camp Peepowingo with about 250 Peeps. In comparison, last year's PEEPshow entries were constructed out of an average of about 250 Peeps, with the largest entries topping several thousand.
Each year from the first saw a steady inflation of the length of the PEEPshow, expanding from eight to nine days in 2010, up to 11 in 2013, 12 in 2015 before reaching 13 this year.
Over the years, numerous fads have been captured in sugar and fluff, from Jimi Hendrix to Justin Bieber, from "Pirates of the Caribbean" to the Super Bowl Halftime Left Shark.
In its seventh year, the PEEPshow surpassed the Carroll County Arts Council's Festival of Wreaths as the organization's most lucrative annual fundraiser, after bringing in more than $40,000 through the sale of voting chips and Peeps merchandise.
The PEEPshow became official in 2014 as the Vice President of Just Born, the company which makes the sweet little chicks, attended the event in the famous PEEPSMOBILE — a Volkswagen Beetle modified to look like the sugary treat. The visits by Just Born members and the PEEPSMOBILE have become an annual tradition.
In 2013, when the PEEPshow brought in $35,000 for the council, Oxx made a deal with the members of the of the arts council and with the public: if they made more than $50,000 at a single year's PEEPshow, she would get a Peep tattooed somewhere on her body.
The very next year, the PEEPshow crushed its previous record, grossing more than $75,000 and netting $59,000 in profit. A month later, she drove out to Little Vinnie's Tattoos in Finksburg and had a Peep permanently added to her wrist.
The PEEPshow began selling official Peeps merchandise in 2015, expanding beyond buttons and pins to include stuffed animals, T-shirts, recipe books and more.
The Washington Post cancelled its annual Peeps Diorama Contest this year, citing a lack of submissions and interest in the event. Despite the difficulties our nation's capital may have in finding Peep artists, Carroll County is full of Peep fanatics, and the 2017 PEEPshow shows no sign of contracting, with more than 175 entries planned for display and several sculptures of more than 3,000 Peeps apiece on display starting Friday.
If you go
What: 10th annual PEEPshow
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, April 7 through Wednesday, April 19
For more information: Visit www.carrollartscenter.org or call 410-848-7272.
2008: "Peeps with Wings" by the Megan Taylor Foundation
2009: "We are Peeple Too" by Change, Inc.
2010: "Where the Wild Things Arte" by Kim Prati and Carroll Springs Schools
2011: "Despeepable Me" by Katherine Reyser
2012: "Peepin' Through Carroll County" by the Mondor Family
2013: "Statue of Peeperty" by Sydney Blacksten
2014: "Olaf: Some People are Worth Peeping For" by Christian Twamley
2015: "Just Born Goofy" by the Mondor Family
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2016: "Swpeepish Chef" by Christian Twamley