Village Peeple descend upon Middlebury, Vermont

Sometimes great art demands brutality, and so Leigh Boglioli, 13, savaged her Peeps. Leigh, a 13-year-old seventh-grader from East Middlebury, Vermont, began by slicing single ears off of select rabbit Peeps and glued them on to other ones, creating mutated, three-eared Peep bunnies. She beheaded other pink bunny Peeps, reattaching their little pink heads onto other little green bunny bodies. The result? Mutated multi-color Peeps. And she bought any chick Peeps she could find with deformed eyes. Then, in the midst of this small world of Picasso Peeps, she built a model of a nuclear power plant cooling tower out of cardboard and aluminum foil – and placed a Band-Aid across one wall.

The result? A Peeps diorama Leigh christened, “New Wildlife Discovered in Vernon, Vermont.” Vernon, of course, is the site of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, still operating despite the expiration last month of its 40-year license. “I worry about Vermont Yankee,” Leigh said. “It’s run its course.”

Leigh’s Peeps statement is one 24 Peeps dioramas you can see through Thursday at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury. It’s a part of the Center’s first ever “Peeps Show:” Dioramas made from the iconic marshmallow and sugar candy. The inspiration behind the show is operations manager, Sarah Stahl, who is a big fan of the “Washington Post’s” decade-old Peeps diorama contest. She said it was a natural for Middlebury, given the Folklife Center’s tradition of hosting an annual gingerbread house competition in December.

Indeed, some of the artists who are a part of the “Peeps Show” are experienced gingerbread house architects, such as New Haven’s Grace Tolles, 7. As if it were a gingerbread house, almost all of her Peeps diorama is edible. Inspired by a Caribbean cruise she took in January with her mom and dad, she called her diorama “Tiki Peepi,” and it features Peeps surfboarding on a sea made of vanilla frosting colored blue, with other Peeps sunbathing on a graham cracker beach. Even the boombox in the sand is edible: It’s a piece of chewing gum.

Ann Demong, a Folklife Center board member and a retired educator, loves the idea of working with Peeps: “I’m amazed at all the ideas people came up with. Peeps are a form we see all the time, and then here you see them completely re-imagined.” Demong, like many of us, is also a little dazzled by how large a Peep gets in the microwave. She created a Peeps can-can and mini Moulin Rouge stage for her diorama.

And while a lot of the dioramas were built around puns – including a terrific Peeps chess set by 10-year-old Ryan Gladstone titled “Chick Mate” – there were many that depended only on the chicks and bunnies…and available Barbie Doll clothing. Exhibit A would be seventh-grader Jenna Baginsky’s “Peeps Fashion Show,” a meticulously rendered (and illuminated) catwalk and crowd. “It wins the best use of Barbie Doll halter tops, bar none,” the Folklife Center’s Sarah Stahl told me.

Other ones that were mighty impressive? The staff and residents of the Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center created the “Helen Porter Peeps Square Dance,” with most of the Peeps in miniature wheelchairs and walkers. Eileen and Krystian Gombosi built an elegant “Princess and the Peep.” And Grace Tolles’s dad, Doug, focused on Easter with a recreation of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

Doug’s version, “The Last Peeper,” has a bit of a Dan Brown “Da Vinci Code” edge to it. “Which one is Judas?” he asked me at the opening.

His “Last Peeper” won’t last as long as da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” of course. Peeps go stale fast. Or they’re eaten. (Or, often, they’re eaten when they’re stale. Many Peeps aficionados prefer them a little crisp.) But as Picasso said, “Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar.” He was, I am quite sure, talking about Peeps.

(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on April 1, 2012. Chris’s new novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” arrives on July 17.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.