Alexandra Fraser visits the home of Charles Schulz in Sonoma County, California, to discover the origins of Somerset House’s latest exhibition.
It’s hard to imagine a person today who would not be able to recognise at least one of Charles Schulz’s beloved cartoon characters. For the older generation there was, of course, the beloved Peanuts strip which continues to run in newspapers worldwide today.
For millennials, Snoopy merchandise was part and parcel of growing up and for even younger fans, the 2015 Peanuts movie will ensure that the memory of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy will not fade with time like its charcoal counterpart.
‘Every sidewalk had a sheet of ice at least ten feet long worn smooth from the kids sliding on it’
Peanuts is memorialised no better than in Sonoma County, California, home to the Charles M. Schulz Museum, the proverbial guardian angel of Schulz’s memory. Although (as Schulz’s widow Jean remarked to me) his drawings with their cold winters and north-western sensibilities never left his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, it was in these sunnier climes that Schulz decided put down lasting roots.
Known since birth at ‘Sparky’ to friends and family after Sparkplug, a horse in the Barney Google comic strip, Schulz moved to Sonoma County in 1958, eight years after Peanuts made its debut in newspapers.
Just over ten years later, Schulz purchased an old ice rink and opened Snoopy’s Home Ice, the Redwood Empire Ice Area, which bordered the property housing his studio. Once reminiscing that in his childhood ‘every sidewalk in front of every school had a sheet of ice at least ten feet long worn smooth from the kids sliding on it’, Schulz was eager to allow his children to enjoy the hobbies he pursued in his youth, encouraging them to pick up ice hockey and figure skating.
Schulz spent the last thirty years of his life on this property, writing in his studio, eating in the Warm Puppy Café at the ice rink and, as he described it, ‘hanging out’.
Schulz passed away in his sleep on the 12 February, 2002, one day before his final original Sunday strip appeared in newspapers around the world. The Charles M. Schulz Museum was built on the same property as the rink and his studio and serves as a testament to the many lives Schulz touched with his drawings.
‘Seeing the humorous parts of life requires having experienced things’
The Peanuts strip follows the lives of children but they were by no means Schulz’s target audience. Instead, Schulz holds the camera at a child’s level and observes the truths of adult life from their perspective.
Schulz, when counselling patience to young cartoonists, said ‘when it comes to thinking of humorous ideas, you need experience, because seeing the humorous parts of life requires having experienced things’. Recurring themes of love, loss and even failure permeate his strip, all of which were inspired by events in his own life.
‘I draw from my own experiences, from my own observations, and why it works I don’t know’
It is Schulz’ gentle, humorous explanation of the world’s harsh realities that ensures that Peanuts will be preserved in years to come.
‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown!’ celebrates this, the enduring power of Peanuts. Running from the 25th October until the 3rd March 2019 in the South Wing of the Embankment Galleries, the exhibition features Schulz’s original artwork along with that of a wide range of contemporary artists, all of whom were inspired by the Peanuts strip.
Kim Jones, Artistic Director of Dior Men’s, has loaned the exhibition a selection of Peanuts sweatshirts and first edition books from his personal collection. NASA has delved into its archives to provide photographic prints of Snoopy’s space mission to the moon with Apollo 10. This week, the first week of the exhibition’s opening, Jean Schulz has come from California to share her memories of his life and work with his British fans.
With even more events besides, including an Unrequited Love special on Valentine’s Day, ‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown!’ is sure to bring some joy and much needed levity to the busy city of London.
‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown!’ will run from 25 October 2018 – 03 March 2019. Tickets are £14.00 / £11.00 concessions, Under 12s free. To find out more about ‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown!’ and other exhibitions at Somerset House, please visit www.somersethouse.org.uk.
To find more about the Charles M. Schulz Museum, please visit www.schulzmuseum.org.
To learn more about Sonoma County, home to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and the Redwood Empire Ice Area, please visit www.sonomacounty.com.
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