In its eighth year, the Carroll County Arts Council's annual PEEPshow fundraiser, featuring art fashioned out of and inspired by marshmallow Peeps candies, has received an official air of legitimacy. This year, Just Born Inc., the company that produces the sugar-coated Easter-themed marshmallow treats, has partnered with the arts council to sell official Peeps merchandise, including T-shirts, plush Peeps, socks, recipe books, key chains, tote bags and more during the event held from Friday, March 27, through April 6.
Carroll County Arts Council Executive Director Sandy Oxx said the Just Born company has become more active with the PEEPshow in recent years, with a visit from Vice President Matthew Pye in the PEEPSMOBILE last year.
"The merchandise they've given us is a definite cut above the stuff we were creating in the sweatshops," Oxx joked. "The Just Born company definitely acknowledges that we're a huge ambassador for them, and they want official company images to go with that."
Despite the official Peeps merchandise, the main event is still the community produced pieces of art. The artwork on display ranges from the respectful — a monochrome ode to the Marines who fought at Iwo Jima; to the satirical — a Peep-based look at the commercial opportunities with the lifting of the Cuban embargo; to the delightfully juvenile — a toilet seat that, when lifted, reveals two brown Peeps floating in the bowl.
The pieces are designed by local individuals, families, schools, businesses and organizations. Oxx said there will be about 170 pieces of art on display. Some of the sculptures feature no more than a couple of Peeps located in a diorama, while others feature thousands making up the body of the sculpture.
Westminster resident Rob Mondor along with his wife, Ann; children, Sean and Lauren; and niece, Samantha Horner, built a larger-than-life sculpture of Disney's Goofy featuring exactly 3,723 Peeps. Built from Peeps overtop a framework of rods, lumber and insulation foam, the sculpture is nearly 9-feet tall, 6-feet wide, took more than two months to complete and was too large to fit into the doorway of the Carroll Arts Center.
To prepare for the show, the Mondors designed the sculpture to tip onto its back, which had been affixed with wheels to travel horizontally. Rob, a Maryland State Police trooper, said nobody in his family has an artistic background, they just enjoy the opportunity to participate and have created some memorable entries over the years.
"We just thought it would be a fun family project to do," Mondor said. "We started with 'Peeperts of the Caribbean,' which was a pirate ship, four years ago, which came in third place. It's just something we can all work on together."
Two years ago, the Mondor family created a nearly 8 foot tall Big Bird sculpture for the PEEPshow. This piece was later displayed at both the Just Born headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa., and at the PBS39 television station in Bethlehem.
Each year, Oxx said, the PEEPshow seems to grow. Last year, she said, approximately 25,000 people came in to see the artwork throughout the week. The PEEPshow is the Carroll County Arts Council's No. 1 fundraiser of the year. In 2014, they raised around $40,000 from voting chips, concessions and merchandise sales, up from $35,000 the year before.
"Last year, our crowd was getting borderline scary. We had days where the line snaked around the block," Oxx said. "It can be very hard to plan where to put everything inside, when you don't know the sizes of things. We've had more people doing big stuff lately and it's more complicated than ever."
Karen Donaldson, of Westminster, who has been attending the PEEPshow every year since it began, said she took the growth of the event into account when planning her sculpture, a Peep replica of the Natty Boh Tower in Baltimore.
"Last year, I had done a local business, a diorama for Harry's Main Street Grill, but this year I thought I would do something more Baltimore versus Westminster," Donaldson said. "I've noticed people have started coming from farther and farther away, so I wanted to do something with a larger scale as far as the interest base."
Donaldson's sculpture features a battery feature on the top of the building that allows the National Bohemian logo to light up on top of the Peep structure.
Every year you build a Peep sculpture you learn something new, she said.
"It's a creative process that's just really fun," Donaldson said. "It's like a drug. I don't take drugs, but I assume it's like a drug when it starts to come together. You see it stay glued and look great and it just feels great."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out a photo gallery of some of this year's PEEPshow entries on our website, http://www.carrollcountytimes.com.
If You Go
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 27 to April 6
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster