The big news from the Charles M. Schulz Museum is that a new feature-length animated movie about Charlie Brown and the gang, “The Peanuts Movie,” is coming to theaters this fall. Produced by Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, its opening is scheduled to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the first “Peanuts” strip by Charles Schulz to appear in newspapers.
Another piece of big news from the Santa Rosa museum is that no, Charlie Brown still hasn’t kicked the football. Lucy keeps pulling it away.
Nevertheless Charlie, Lucy, Linus and all the characters are all over this bright and lively two-story facility, as is Charlie’s faithful (and sometimes not so faithful) companion, Snoopy. Except for Charlie himself, there may be more images of Snoopy around the building than any other figure. A sculpture of him sleeping on top of his doghouse greets you outside the front door—
There is also a very clever labyrinth outside that is both a sculpture in the form of Snoopy’s head—his ear is a bench, his nose is a rock—as well as an entertaining play area for children. Then step into the front lobby and he is holding his dish ready for a meal—
The museum has a small gift shop just off the lobby, and naturally you can find T-shirts, books and other items on sale with him and his BFF—
One of the pleasures of the museum—established, by the way, at this site because this is where Schulz lived and worked for the last decades of his life—is being able to see the growth in his work and his evolving portraits of the “Peanuts” characters. In a front hallway is an enlarged strip of an early Snoopy causing mischief with his pals, all of them still developing under their creator’s brilliant eye and hand—
The Schulz museum is a beacon for children and their parents and grandparents, and the day I went there some kids were working on art projects on tables along the windows in the hallway. With so many children around, you better have bathrooms nearby and fortunately even Snoopy is in the men’s room too—
The museum’s signature piece of art is a wonderful two-story high ceramic tile mural made from 3,588 2×8-inch tiles, each of a different comic strip. Snoopy isn’t in the mural—
But he is the focus of a nearby bas relief sculpture made of wood that shows how he changed over the years from an ordinary-looking beagle to a zestful personality who dances, ice skates, punches out stories on a typewriter, eats bones while reading the paper and expresses sadness and joy.
Snoopy’s creator produced close to 18,000 “Peanuts” strips and won countless awards. One of them, his Emmy for the immortal “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is on display at the museum. There is also a special section devoted to the making of the program and a 100-seat theater for watching it and other “Peanuts” animated shows. After a life rich with accomplishment, Schulz died in early 2000 at age 77. Both Woodstock and his favorite dog pay homage to him on the memorial bench in the garden patio—
The Schulz Museum has some 7,000 original strips in its collection, so it has plenty of material to draw from to stage new exhibitions and keep things fresh for visitors. (When I was there, for instance, the “Peanuts in Wonderland” exhibit showed the influence of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” on Schulz and how often Alice and her gang made it into his “Peanuts” stories. It runs through April.)
Some exhibits do not change, however, such as the upstairs re-creation of Schulz’s studio featuring his drawing board, desk and chair, family photos, a zebra painting and other personal belongings. More permanent installations can be found here as well, such as the last daily “Peanuts” strip, published on January 1, 2000:
Gina Huntsinger, the Schulz’s marketing manager who toured me around the facility, said that “Sparky,” as he was known, was suffering from colon cancer and may have had a sense that the end was near when he penned this somewhat downbeat strip. As Snoopy realizes “his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs,” Schulz may have been looking back at his own boyhood with the knowledge that no matter how full the life, there are empty places in every person’s heart.
He died Feb. 12 in his Santa Rosa home, and the next day the final original “Peanuts” Sunday strip appeared in the papers. Again speaking through Snoopy, who is seated on top of his doghouse typing into a typewriter, Schulz bid his readers farewell.
But, of course, his work lives on. Classic “Peanuts” strips are still carried by many newspapers—written and drawn only by Schulz—and more than 80,000 visitors a year come to the museum to touch back in with his enduring legacy. Next door is the ice arena that Schulz built with his own money, partly as a gift to the community, partly to give himself a place to skate and play ice hockey, both passions of his, and partly to sit and watch children have fun on skates—creative fodder for his “Peanuts” strips. At the Warm Puppy café in the arena you can see Snoopy—
And he is inside the arena as well, watching out for the kids—
Also on the grounds are a gift shop and exhibit hall with still more stuff on Snoopy and Charlie and the rest of them. And look for “The Peanuts Movie” when it comes out because you’ll never guess who’s the star.
Charles M. Schulz Museum, 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa. Weekdays Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. except Tues. Closed Tuesdays. Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $10; Children 4-18, $5; 3-and-under, free. 707-579-4452.
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