Go Peanuts at the MSI

See how Charles M. Schulz and the Peanuts gang evolved.
By Martina Sheehan |
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“If you read the strip, you would know me; everything I am goes into the strip,” Charles Schulz once told The Illustrator magazine. Peanuts fans then, are about to get pretty personal with the creator of the most popular comic strip of all time, when on October 25 the Museum of Science and Industry debuts “Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit,” featuring a selection of artifacts specially selected from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. With the exhibition broken up into three parts—Schulz, Celebration and The Peanut Gallery—families can expect to see things like the artist’s original drawing board, complete with a sizable groove from decades of ink pen strokes; a chance to peek in Snoopy’s house; rotating seasonal displays celebrating the Great Pumpkin and other favorite Peanuts holidays; and plenty of interactive elements for tactile kiddos, including a zoetrope activity that lets little ones make their own animation. As for getting to know Schulz and the Peanuts crew, Jane O’Cain from the Santa Rosa museum says evolution is key. Here she offers her insider perspective on how some of the characters changed over the years, and how their lives often bared an uncanny resemblance to Schulz’s. If that’s too much to get through, good grief, just enjoy the artwork.

“Charlie Brown and the Great Exhibit” runs October 25 through February 18, 2013 at the Museum of Science and Industry (57th St and Lake Shore Dr, 773-684-1414; msichciago.org). See Calendar for details.

October 2, 1950 Charlie Brown is born in Peanuts to a barber father and homemaker mother.

1950s Charlie Brown evolves. “When Charlie Brown debuted he had a kind of a flip little personality. Only later did he take on being the everyman, the bit of a loser that so many people identify him with today.”

October 24, 1977 Unlike his alter ego Schulz, Charlie Brown lands the Little Red-Haired Girl—or at least is afforded a kiss in the animated television special, It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown.

February 12, 2000 Schulz passes, and his wish that no one else create the Peanuts strip after his death are fulfilled. Only hours after the artist’s death, the last Sunday strip is published. Today Schulz’s classic Peanuts strips continue to be published in newspapers nationwide.

Oct 4, 1950 Snoopy is born on the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm.

June 28, 1957 Snoopy matures. “Some of the characters like Lucy, Sally and Rerun entered [the Peanuts strip] as babies. Snoopy started very puppylike…He walked around on all fours. It’s interesting to see how the characters underwent a lot of changes in the way they were drawn, and in their personalities.”

May 27, 1952 Snoopy’s intelligence is showcased. He “thinks” for the first time. His sophistication is further established when Snoopy becomes an aspiring novelist and quotes other writers such as Gertrude Stein and Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

September 19, 1966 Snoopy’s doghouse burns to the ground. “Snoopy lost his home and his Van Gogh, which was replaced by an Andrew Wyeth,” O’Cain says. “It makes you wonder what priceless documents or artwork might have been lost in Schulz’s studio fire.”

Nov 26, 1922 Charles Schulz is born in Minneapolis to a barber father and homemaker mother.

Late ’20s–early ’30s Schulz embraces sports as a kid. “He did play neighborhood baseball and his team once took a 40-0 loss, which served him well in later years when he could exploit that in the comic strip,” notes O’Cain, referring to the dismal team Charlie Brown managed.

1934 “When Charles was about 12, his family got a black-and-white dog named Spike. He had a quirky intelligence and could understand about 50 words,” O’Cain notes. Wild and crazy Spike informed Snoopy’s antics as the strip developed. A character named Spike eventually appears in the comic strip as one of Snoopy’s three brothers.

Post-war Schulz falls in love with a red-haired woman while working as a teacher at his mail-correspondence art-school alma mater. Schulz proposed but shortly thereafter, she married someone else. “It was traumatic for him and this was immortalized in Charlie Brown’s ongoing pursuit of his Little Red-Haired Girl,” says O’Cain.

1966 Schulz’s Sebastopol, California, studio burns down.

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