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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Honouring Sparky's dream
Jeanie Schulz
Jeanie Schulz is proud of the museum

The male and female toilets at the new Charles Schulz Museum are where the work of the man behind the Peanuts cartoon can be appreciated on a one-to-one basis.

A continuous strip of Charlie Brown's exploits runs right around the toilet stalls and the sink area of the bathrooms of the museum in his home town of Santa Rosa, just fifty miles north of San Francisco.

Charles M Schulz
At work in 1966: Schulz was known as Sparky to his family
It's an area the artist's widow Jeanie is particularly proud of.

Schulz, known to his family as Sparky, died in February 2000 aged 77 from colon cancer, only a few weeks after he produced his last Peanuts strip.

"This is a great place and many of the cartoons in here are very old," Jeanie explains.

"They include a series when Snoopy's dog house burned down, which is actually a replay of Sparky's own house burning down."

The museum is a light and airy building that takes the visitor on a guided tour through the life of this much loved artist, nicknamed Sparky by his family, who died two years ago.

Changing personas

Vistors see the early incarnations of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy from the 1950s and how they grew into the figures adored by over 350 million people from all over the globe.

That evolution is captured in a massive wooden sculpture composed of 43 layers which are cut away to reveal the changing personas of Snoopy

They begin with Spike, Schulz's childhood pet and inspiration for the world famous beagle.

Museum director Ruth Gardner Begell
Ruth Gardner Begell with Charlie Brown
On another nearby wall there are 3,500 Peanuts strips, which, from a distance, show Lucy with a football and Charlie Brown.

The very office where Sparky worked is recreated on the second floor of the museum with many of the original items taken from his California studio.

For Jeanie Schulz it is a place which gives her goose bumps.

"My first reaction when I came up to the threshold was that I didn't want to go in.

"We never went into Sparky's office until we made sure he knew we were coming because nobody wanted to disturb his train of thought."

Star

Schulz's work reverberated around the universe. US soldiers stenciled Snoopy onto their helmets and the Apollo 10 astronauts christened their command module Charlie Brown and their lunar landing vehicle Snoopy.

Charlie Brown under construction
Charlie Brown under construction
Peanuts made the cover of Time magazine and the Guinness Book of Records while Schulz got a star on the Hollywood Hall of Fame.

Museum director Ruth Gardner Begell says the success of Peanuts is because many people felt Schulz spoke directly to them.

She recalls: "He remarked many times 'if you want to know me read my strip.'"

Visitor Dan Peterson - accompanied by his eight-year-old daughter Leah - adds: "You can relate a little bit to each of the characters in different ways. For example my baseball career was like Charlie Brown's baseball career."

Jeanie Schulz says her husband's gift of being able to speak to children and adults alike was an astounding one, that sometimes put her centre stage.

"My only claim to fame is that occasional funny things about my not cooking very well ended up there," she says.

Snoopy and Woodstock
Snoopy appeared on US soldiers' uniforms
"I also called Sparky my sweet baboo and in the strip Sally calls Linus her sweet baboo."

The museum also has an education and research centre with many of Sparky's business papers, videos and DVDs for students interested in researching Schulz's life and cartoon art in general.

"Cartooning is important as an art form because it's understandable," says Ruth Gardiner Begell.

"Very often people think great art has to be difficult to understand.

"But if you look at the definition of art that Charles Schulz liked to talk about, it is that great art is something that speaks to subsequent generations."

See also:

13 Feb 00 | Entertainment
21 Feb 00 | Letter From America
22 Feb 00 | Entertainment
13 Feb 00 | Entertainment
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