Good grief! Schulz museum preserves legacy of laughter

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A statue of Charlie Brown greets visitors to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif.

So that's what a kite-eating tree looks like.

In the garden off the Great Hall of the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, the tree looms as ominous to me, a real-live person, as it does to the Peanuts gang who live as cherished characters in comic strips and television specials.

Although Schulz started his career as a cartoonist while he was living in Colorado, he spent the last 30 years of his life living in Santa Rosa, California, drawing, eating and, as he is quoted as saying, "hanging out."

One of the very special exhibits at the museum is an entire wall that he painted in 1951 for his daughter Meredith's nursery in his home back in Colorado. It is installed in its entirety in the upstairs gallery. The nursery mural shows the first, fledgling forms of his Peanuts characters.

Out of the mouths of these babes came expressions that transcend the comic pages and generations. Think "security blanket," "blockhead," and "Happiness is a warm puppy" — as all are firmly rooted in our vocabulary.


So are the images they created, thinking of Lucy's sidewalk psychiatry stand, Pig Pen, Linus at the piano or Snoopy on the roof of his doghouse. And, the aforementioned kite-eating tree. At the museum, visitors witness the evolution of these ideas and the characters that became synonymous with them.

Loveable gang

Two floors of galleries and a garden are devoted to the life and times of not only Schulz, but of the gang of kids.

After passing a large, smiling "Charlie Brown" statue at the landscaped entrance, an over-sized and framed line drawing of Charlie joins three of his pals on the wall of the foyer. Entering the glass doors to see four familiar faces — Charlie, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy — sets a perfect mood for a leisurely walkabout among old friends. A full-color statue of Woodstock in a shower cap taking a shower follows the line art and puts a smile on your face, if there isn't one already there.

While the ambience at most museums today is more casual, albeit behavior is still respectful and contained, the Schulz is no exception. That said, every once in a while, a squeal or even a belly laugh breaks out from someone looking at just the right cartoon at just the right moment. Or, in other cases, stumbling on just the right memory that provokes a tear or two. Hearing a giggle from another gallery only makes a visit more special.

Established in 2002, the museum houses collections from original art, the Peanuts comic strip collection — where plenty of belly laughs are found — a library collection of books and TipTop comics in addition to a re-creation of the Charles M. Schulz studio a.k.a. "Sparky's Studio" to mirror the one he used at One Snoopy Place.

There's Schulz's art collection, memorabilia from his life and specially archived correspondence.

Visual metaphors


The vision of Lucy Van Pelt duping Charlie Brown by teeing up a football is so hugely recognizable; it became a commonly used metaphor. TV's "West Wing" fans may remember the character of President Bartlett explaining to the chief of staff that his expectations for a guided missile test could be compared to Charlie Brown expecting to kick the football held by Lucy Van Pelt.

A tile work from Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani recreates that bigger-than-life scene in a bigger-than-life mural. Otani used 3,588 Peanuts comic strip images printed on 2-by-8-inch ceramic tiles to fill a 17-by-22-foot wall to depict Charlie trusting Lucy just one more time.

For the opposite end of the Great Hall, Otani created a 3.5-ton, wooden bas-relief that represents a timeline of Snoopy. Otani used 43 layers in curving shapes to show the evolution from Schulz's childhood dog, Spike, to today's recognizable beagle.

There's more highbrow art included at the museum, too. In 1978, Schulz paid homage to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, artists on the grand scale, by draping Snoopy's doghouse, much like Cristo would say, the Grand Canyon. Twenty-five years later, Christo presented the museum with a life-size doghouse, shaped like Snoopy's, draped and tied in tarp and cord.

Thanks to Schulz's imagination, the museum guide explained, for more than 60 years a group of precocious, angst-ridden children and a beagle with a rich fantasy life situated themselves into our lives. Where, at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and in newspapers worldwide, they still do.

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