October 24, 2017

MID-CENTURY MODERN SCHULZ

I'm sure many readers are aware of the wildfires that ripped through northern California recently. It was quite a stressful time, as all of us in the area grappled with fear about where the fires were going, anxiety about homes, property and evacuations, the physical hardship of taking breath as smoke and ash filled the region, and the shock over those who didn't make it. Right in the thick of the damage were many of my cartoonist pals north of me in Santa Rosa- a number of them lost their homes and all their work (Eisner and Harvey Award winner Brian Fies drew a cartoon about it). As I continually refreshed websites for air quality and fire maps, I also kept a close eye on the Charles Schulz Museum and Research Center. One of my favorite places on earth, the museum is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting original Peanuts (and other) art, as well as educational workshops, events, and programs that support the community. I was once an artist-of-the-month there. The Schulz family lost their homes in the fire, but thankfully the museum survived! I'd like to recognize these events by looking back at my 2013 visit to see a special exhibit about one of our favorite topics here on Spy Vibe: Mid-Century Modern design.


I went to a special preview for members to see the new Mid-Century Modern exhibit at the Charles Schulz Museum on Saturday. The central rotating gallery had been transformed into a stylish walk through the post-war lifestyle that Schulz and so many others embodied. In partnership with the Eames family, Herman Miller, and local designers, they were able to display many vintage pieces. Mock rooms and artifacts from Schulz's family circa 1955 came together to illustrate elements of the growth of leisure culture in America during the period. The exhibit featured evidence of Mr. Schulz's hobbies, such as bowling, billiards, abstract art, listening to records, riding bicycles with the kids, and spending time by the pool. Schulz's first wife, Joyce, was famously enthusiastic about architecture and design. From the early 1950s through the later building of their Sebastopol home, Joyce had a keen eye for modern drapery, furniture, and what the Saturday Review called "simplicity amid sophistication." Here are two snapshots to give readers a taste of the room designs in the exhibit. One really has to be there, taking in the many displays and small collection of comics -all set to the sounds of Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis- to truly appreciate what the museum has achieved.



The museum's gift shop featured some cool new products inspired by the exhibit, including retro-design Peanuts handkerchiefs, shirts, and coasters. Stay tuned to Spy Vibe for a chance to win free coasters! See the museum's website for details about all current exhibits here.

As a cartoon art teacher I always include a brief history of comic strips and comic books in my classes. Students are often amazed to see original sunday pages from the early days because newspapers printed the strips so large. Even if they don't know the comics, it's impressive to see an entire newspaper page devoted to the likes of like Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers. To them, the art seems more akin to comic books than the strips they knew growing up. I ask them why, and with a little prodding, they start to notice the details in the backgrounds, the figures, and in the shading. What lovely cross-hatching! Around the mid-century, editors wanted to increase readership by offering more strips without necessarily devoting more pages to the funnies. The solution was to shrink down the size of the art and put more titles on each page. Deprived of the full space, all that cross-hatching and careful detail blocked up and became obsolete. The design approach had to change to express not only the size limitations of printing, but to catch up with the sensibilities of the post-war. After all, this was not the era of pre-war parlors weighted down by heavy furniture and ornate decor. There was a new generation who ushered in aesthetics based on clean minimal forms and what Hefner called the personal utopia. Along with innovators in architecture and design, comic creators also needed to reflect this shift to survive (and fit) on the page. Two groundbreaking strips began in 1950 that were perfectly tailored for modern demands: Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker (my book about Mort Walker on Amazon here) and Peanuts by Charles Schulz. Between May 4th and October 27th 2013, The Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa ran a special exhibit called Mid-Century Modern.

In the museum's brochure, Trope Group owner Christina Pratt points out that Schulz's panels offer us a window into his home. In one cartoon printed for the show, she points out that we can see Bonet's BKF Chair (1938) and the famous Molded Plywood/Low Side Chair by Eames (1946). Pratt writes that the exhibit will feature other Herman Miller licensed designs by Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, and others. I think visitors will see not only a time-capsule of Mid-Century Modern design, but also how Schulz (and Walker) created comics in the same wave of simple and playful lines. Don't miss it! On a side note, I was the artist-in-residence at the Charles Schulz Museum in June. You can see a photo (Thanks to Brian Fies) of my boyhood dream coming true- to sit at Schulz's drawing table- here (image on "news" page, and link to an interview on the "about" page). 


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