One of the great benefits of living on the west coast is being near the Charles Schulz Museum. There was an exhibit a few years back that really offered me a new perspective into Mr. Schulz's life that I hadn't seen before. My own background was growing up in New England and knowing cartoonists Dik Browne (Hagar, Hi and Lois) and Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey). I was used to seeing artists working in those cozy, colonial-style settings that are common on the east coast. So when I looked at the simplicity of Peanuts interiors, for example, I saw it more as a minimalist choice in the drawings. But here was a museum show entitled "Mid-Century Modern" that focussed on design and Mr. Schulz's life. I attended a special preview for members -and boy, was it a thrill! The central rotating gallery had been transformed into a stylish tour through the post-war lifestyle that Mr. Schulz and so many others embodied. In partnership with the Eames family, Herman Miller, and local designers, the museum was able to display many vintage pieces. Staged rooms and artifacts from the Schulz family circa 1955 came together to illustrate elements of the growth of leisure culture in America during that period. The exhibit featured evidence of Mr. Schulz's pastimes, such as bowling, billiards, abstract art, listening to records, riding bicycles with the kids, and spending time by the pool. His 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 below to give readers a taste of the rooms in the exhibit. One really had to be there, taking in the many displays and small collection of comics -all set to the sounds of Dave Brubeck (see my last post!), Stan Getz, and Miles Davis- to truly appreciate what the museum had achieved.
The museum's gift shop featured some cool new products inspired by the exhibit, including Mid-Century Modern Peanuts handkerchiefs, shirts, and coasters (see below).
As mentioned above, The Mid-Century exhibit brought viewers into Mr. Schulz's living room via period furniture and decor; it also featured strips from the era that, within this context, helped me to recognize that the world of Peanuts was not simply "minimal" as an aesthetic choice. In fact, Mr. Schulz designed and decorated the strip's environment to echo his own California modernism. His work was autobiographical, once again! Well, Mr. Schulz did once say that if we really wanted to know him, all we had to do was to look at his strip. Below: March 1953 Sunday strip and detail.
In the museum's brochure, Trope Group owner Christina Pratt pointed out that Mr. Schulz's panels offer us a window into the cartoonist's home itself. In one comic printed for the show, she pointed out that we can see Bonet's BKF Chair (1938) and the famous Molded Plywood/Low Side Chair by Eames (1946). Pratt wrote that the exhibit featured other Herman Miller licensed designs by Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, and others. I think visitors saw not only a time-capsule of Mid-Century Modern design, but also how Mr. Schulz (and Mort Walker) created comics during that same wave of simple and playful lines. Time capsules in both form and content. And with that, Happy Birthday to Charles Schulz. I hope he knows somehow that we are still curious, still looking, still learning about him -and through his work, also learning about ourselves.
I was the artist-in-residence at the Charles Schulz Museum a while back. You can see a photo of my boyhood dream coming true- to sit at Mr. Schulz's drawing table- here (thanks to Brian Fies!). Trivia: check out the art school my family started back in 1916: the New York School of Interior Design. Related post: Cold War Comic Strips, Mort Walker Celebration, Beetle Bailey in Berlin, Mort Walker's James Bomb, Comics Week: Archie, Cold War Archie, Archie: Man From Riverdale, Cold War Materials, Atomic Art, Spyman, Jimmy Olson: Agent Double 5, 1966 PEP Spies. Enjoy! Below: March 1952 Sunday panel detail.
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