Today we head up the road to visit Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, and all the rest of the Peanuts gang at Santa Rosa’s contemporary Charles M. Schulz Museum. This impressive collection commemorates the life and work of cartoonist Charles Monroe “Sparky” Schulz, a longtime, low-key Santa Rosa resident until his death in 2000. Despite his quiet, very local life, Schulz was internationally celebrated—more widely syndicated than any other cartoonist, and the only newspaper comic artist ever honored with a retrospective show at the Louvre in Paris.
Cartoonish ideas aside, this is no Disneyland. The stunning 27,000-square-foot building features graceful, spacious galleries—the emphasis here is on the art—plus classroom space, a research center, and a 100-seat auditorium. Permanent exhibits include the 1951 Charles M. Schulz Wall Mural, including early versions of Snoopy and Charlie Brown, from the family’s onetime residence in Colorado Springs—a fascinating look at how the Peanuts gang got its start. Also astonishing is the tile mural by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani, a massive image of Lucy, Charlie Brown’s foil, holding the famous football, made from 3,588 comic strips, and Otani’s massive wooden Morphing Snoopy Sculpture, which shows how Sparky’s childhood pet Spike ultimately became Snoopy.
Fellow geezers, remember Christo’s Running Fence, those miles and miles of environmental art that wrapped the Sonoma and Marin County coastlines in international notoriety, way back in the day, in the late 1970s? At the time, Sparky Schulz celebrated the artist’s accomplishment in one of his comic strips, with an artistically wrapped Snoopy’s doghouse. In late 2003 Christo returned the honor by installing his permanent Wrapped Snoopy House in the museum’s main gallery, which also displays many original Peanuts comic strips. And, if you’ve ever looked at your sad stick of a holiday tree and called it Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, you’ll be thrilled to see CB’s original, also included in the collection. One special 2017 exhibit, continuing into September, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, depicts Snoopy as World Famous Author, writing up a storm on his typewriter atop his doghouse, burying that infamous opening line still deeper.
In front of the museum is the whimsical Snoopy Labyrinth, shaped like Snoopy’s head, where you can wander the path to pursue peace and enlightenment.
One of the best things to do while poking around California museums is shop—and I say that as an inveterate non-shopper. As you might imagine, the museum store here is swell, selling everything from Joe Cool Eyeglass Cleaner, Beagle Scout bucket caps, and Mona Lucy frig magnets to plush Snoopys, football-shaped mints, keychains, and T-shirts commemorating current museum exhibits. Not to mention books, journals, sketchbooks, posters, and stationery. While it’s true that product sales from Schulz’s creative empire have made him a very rich deceased celebrity, behind only Elvis Presley, some say, it’s also true that Peanuts purchases help keep the museum and its programs going—always a good reason to buy mementoes and gifts in museum shops.
There’s more Peanuts-related amusement in the immediate neighborhood. If you’re pretty slick on skates, take a few spins at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, a.k.a. Snoopy’s Home Ice, an impressive local skate and hockey palace complete with Warm Puppy coffee shop.
Until next time this is Kim Weir for Up the Road and North State Public Radio, reminding you, on behalf of Charlie Brown, that “in the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.”