A look at Peep culture, a petite treat with big appeal. (Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)
There's no better way to tell what's hot in Carroll County than by checking out the ninth annual PEEPshow held this week at the Carroll Arts Center.
Each year local creators reflect the cultural milieu in their Peep creations. It's easy to see what's on people's minds these days simply by glancing around the exhibition hall to see what is represented.
With the presidential election looming, artists depicted their hopes and fears with recreations of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and the White House itself. In the pop cultural world, Snoopy and "Star Wars" were big hitters, with multiple renditions of new droid BB-8 and a Peep portrait of the galaxy's most famous wookie, Chewbacca.
In addition to modern pop culture favorites such as Po from "Kung Fu Panda" and Sadness from "Inside Out," there were characters better known to parents, such as a mosaic of Audrey Hepburn and a sculpture of Swedish Chef from "The Muppets." Together the mixture helped create a spread appropriate for fans of all ages.
With schools out for spring break, the PEEPshow was primarily visited by families. Parents and grandparents followed children from exhibit to exhibit while a near-constant refrain of "Don't touch it!" echoed throughout the entire center.
Children breathlessly told the adults in the group who Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems are, while parents explained why they were dropping in tokens for something as simple as glass filled with Peep-style Nattie Boh. While they browsed, several patrons shared ideas for future sculptures in the show, including "SharkPEEPo," based off of the SyFy Channel original franchise "Sharknado."
Amanda Brumbaugh took her son, Sam, 9, and daughter, Grace, 14, to the PEEPshow for the first time this year. She said they heard about the event on Facebook and decided to check out the show. Amanda said it blew away her expectations.
"Coming in, I didn't really know what to expect," she said, "but I had no idea it would be this popular."
According to Sandy Oxx, director of the Carroll County Arts Council, more than 150 creations are on display this year.
This is the first PEEPshow since Oxx received a Peep tattoo, the result of a wager that the center couldn't raise $50,000 at the eighth annual show last year. Crowds helped blow past that goal, eventually bringing in more than $75,000 for the Carroll County Arts Council and its various programs. Money is raised through the sale of voting tickets, Peep treats and specialty Peeps merchandise.
This year's show features an even greater array of Peeps merchandise than in previous years. Spectators could pick up anything from a variety of Peep T-shirts, to dog toys, erasers, water bottles, beach balls, keychains, magnets, lip gloss, slippers, foam balls and just about anything else that could be branded with a chick or rabbit.
Oxx said she was stunned by the size of the early turnout Friday and anticipates an even larger crowd this year.
Folks lined up around the Arts Center to catch a peep at the marshmallow sculptures. Chalk stencils of chick and rabbit Peeps lined the sidewalk, guiding visitors to the entrance.
Three visitors who lined up outside of the Arts Center prior to the opening Friday were Clyde and Carole Speelman, of Middle River, with their grandson, Ryan, 11.
Carole said she's always been impressed with the creativity and workmanship that goes into the elaborate creations. She said it's amazing what it takes to put together one of these Peep projects.