Visiting the World of “Peanuts” Creator, Charles M Schulz
In August of 2010, I had planned to visit the Charles M Schulz Museum as part of my California trip. However, sleeping through my early-morning alarm rendered that plan obsolete. I vowed that if I was ever in the San Francisco/Bay Area again, I’d make another attempt to go. When I decided to treat myself to the Cartoon Art Museum’s annual benefit held on the grounds of Pixar (that experience will be in an upcoming post), I made time to also head North to Santa Rosa, CA.
What surprised me the most was how low-key it was for someone without a car to get to the Museum. I utilized the Airport Express bus system, and from one of their drop-off points, took a cab to where the Museum is.
Before I went to the Museum, I decided to take in some lunch at the Warm Puppy Cafe, located in the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (aka Snoopy’s Home Ice). The arena was originally conceived of and designed by Schulz and his first wife, Joyce.
The Warm Puppy Cafe serves standard fare like hot dogs and hamburgers, but you can get a salad as well. Near the front door, was a small table that Schulz would often sit at when he took his breakfast or lunch. It still sits there, reserved.
Snoopy appears in several areas in the cafe. From this inviting shot over the fireplace-
-to this series of stained-glass windows that separates the cafe from the main ice arena entrance.
The arena itself was rather quiet when I took my lunch there, but in the evening, it really came alive. I walked around and observed people learning to skate. There really was a fine attention-to-detail paid to the atmosphere, and the wood-paneling and white of the ceiling tiles definitely felt very homey.
Located nearby, is Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop. The building serves as both a place to get more commercially-based Peanuts memorabilia, and contains a small museum on its upper floor.
Here’s a picture of the lower sales floor, with The World War I Flying Ace ‘patrolling’ overhead in his Sopwith Camel.
The upper floor of the gallery had a number of vintage Peanuts items, but this item was particularly interesting. This was the barber pole that used to be outside the barber shop that Charles Schulz’s father worked at. The connection was made evident in the Peanuts strips, with Charlie Brown’s Dad being a barber. The barber pole here was ‘rescued’ by Charles’ daughter Jill many years ago.
Finally, it was time to visit the Museum. I must admit that I enjoyed the way that Schulz’s family really worked to make the structure not so ostentatious. Its simplicity on the outside seems to provide a nice sincerity that one doesn’t normally see in regards to some Museums. Plus, the clean lines and box-like windows put one in mind of comic-strip panels.
The museum’s Great Hall features several art pieces by Yoshiteru Otani. These include this wood-based piece showing Snoopy’s evolution over the years-
-along with this tile mural, made up of 3,588 Peanuts strips. Below, you can see what a portion of it looks like up close.
Off to the left of the Great Hall are the exhibition galleries. The main gallery areas have space for visiting exhibitions, and specially-themed exhibitions that showcase specific strips from the Peanuts lineup. Every few months, the exhibition is changed to a new theme. While I was there, the theme was Hit the Road, Snoopy. This exhibition was just like candy for me. Growing up and reading through all the Peanuts books in my school’s library, many of the strips on hand were deeply ingrained in my mind. One that was fun to see was where Snoopy attempts to enter a wrist-wrestling competition in Petaluma, CA. I still remember as a kid trying to figure how to pronounce the name (Pee-tah-luhm-muh?).
Much like seeing Monet’s Water Lilies up close adds an extra dimension to the artwork, so too did seeing the strips on display. One could see the pencil lines, pasted-over lettering corrections, and (my favorite), the ink layers for scenes where a character was seen in dark silhouette. The photocopying process that put the comics into newspapers would just meld all those layers into one basic black tone, so seeing the multiple layers was a little thrill for me. (At the request of the Museum, I didn’t take photos of the galleries)
On the other side of the Great Hall, the Courtyard housed several art pieces, and was a nice place to relax.
Of the various pieces of art on display, the giant Charlie Brown Sweater (created by artist Suzanne Morlock) was only there temporarily. Believe it nor not, it was ‘knitted’ using leftover mylar.
While the lower floor of the Museum feels moreso about the Peanuts gang, the main area on the second floor delves into Charles Schulz and his life. His studio has been recreated here as well.
A room adjacent to the ‘studio’ houses mementos of Schulz’s life, along with awards, and other odds-and-ends. There was also a smaller, temporary gallery featuring artwork that Schulz did that wasn’t primarily comic-strip related. Notable was this little ‘get well’ watercolor/pen-and-ink image that was made for Aunt Ruth. It’s a notable piece of art, because it has an adult figure rendered in the same frame as the Peanuts characters.
Eventually, all the art got to me, and I found myself in the Education Room, stocked with drawing tables, supplies, and much more. A stack of 4-paneled comic papers sat nearby, and after having been cheered up out of my world-weary, post-Black-Friday blues by A Charlie Brown Christmas (which was playing in the Museum’s main theatre), sat down and concocted a little thank-you comic strip to the Museum. I got a little thrill of nostalgia using a pencil with a big-tip eraser, not to mention a Crayola marker. In 1998-1999, I also worked on providing my hometown newspaper, The Waterloo Courier, with a weekly comic-strip for their teen section every Wednesday. That comic was Weird10 (aka ‘Weird to the Tenth Power’), and featured a number of teenagers on strange entertainment-related adventures, and who even encountered a Buddhist chicken.
As I finished it up, I was met by one of the Museum’s staff members named Kristi, who after seeing my comic, requested if she could include it in the Museum’s monthly employee newsletter. She offered to then swap me a copy of one of the Schulz strips for mine. I took her up on this offer, and described the strip from 12/29/61 to a ‘T.’ I have had some days where I feel just like Snoopy in the strip (below). Kristi also surprised me as we were discussing art, by telling me that her husband was the artist responsible for the overhead neon installation at O’Hare Airport, in the connecting tunnel between United Airlines‘s terminals.
As I took my leave of the area, I was very pleased with the visit. The design and presentation at the museum was one of the few that seemed to be very ‘sincere.’ The ability to honor Schulz’s artistic legacy while representing him as a simple man also helped. By keeping the Museum nestled in the familiar area where much of his life was, one definitely feels a comfort to the surroundings.
If you do visit, I strongly suggest also visiting the neighboring Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and Snoopy’s Gallery and Gift Shop. It feels that any journey wouldn’t be complete without seeing them as well.