August 19, 2012

Schulz Museum blossoms at 10-year anniversary celebration

On Thursday, August 15, 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center opened to the public amid great fanfare. The star-studded guest list included numerous cartoonists and animators — among them Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), Greg Evans (Luann) and Sergio Aragones (Mad Magazine) — along with Peanuts-type celebrities such as Robert Short, author of The Gospel According to Peanuts and several other books. One noted special guest was Yoshiteru ("Yoshi") Otani, whose whimsical sculptures, designs and other efforts for various Snoopy Town Shops in Japan had helped inspire the new Schulz Museum's overall look.

Your FiveCents
Please bloggers were present as well, along with literally hundreds of Peanuts fans who couldn't wait to be among the museum's first visitors. The gift shop already was laden with plenty of books, plush Snoopy dolls — wearing museum T-shirts, of course — and other items designed to commemorate this event. Scott and Victor also were among the contributing writers for Derrick's first book, 50 Years of Happiness: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz ... and you can see them standing in front of an entire shelf filled with copies of this book.

They're quite pleased by the fact that the book has remained available in this same gift shop ever since, where it remains a steady seller.

Flash-forward a decade, to Saturday, August 18, 2012: the weekend designated to celebrate the museum's 10th anniversary. Some things have changed over the years, such as the museum's staff, in part because it has grown so much. But the core message remains fixed: the celebration of Charles M. Schulz's work, and the dedication toward keeping his vision alive through an ever-changing assortment of imaginative and cleverly designed exhibits, many of which also have toured the country with stops at other museums.

The festivities began at 11 a.m. with a "cherry tree ceremony" designed to honor both the museum's anniversary, and Otani's artistic contributions and ongoing devotion to its mission. The ceremony also held a greater purpose: as part of the 2012 Japan-U.S. Centennial Cherry Blossom Tree Planting Initiative, to further enhance the friendship between these two countries. The centennial celebration looks back to 1912, when — to express appreciation for the United States' partnership in that year's Treaty of Portmouth, Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees from Tokyo, to be planted along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Cherry blossoms — sakura — are Japan's national flower.

Roughly 50 people gathered in the Schulz Museum's front courtyard on this warm August morning, where they found a young cherry blossom tree carefully wrapped for the ceremony, and planted alongside the Snoopy Labyrinth. The small but dedicated group included quite a few folks who had traveled all the way from Japan, along with (sadly) only half of your FiveCentsPlease team. Jeannie Schulz and museum director Karen Johnson gave short introductory speeches, and Jeannie presented Otani — also present for the occasion, once again wearing the eye-catching white "Snoopy jacket" that had prompted so many photographs, back in 2002 — with a lovely sculpture by Stan Pawlowski, another artist who has been a longtime friend to the Schulz family and the Peanuts empire (and whose full-size bronze statue of Charlie Brown and Snoopy continues to draw tourists to Santa Rosa's nearby Railroad Square).

A proclamation then was read aloud by San Francisco's Deputy Consul General of Japan, Michio Harada, who spoke warmly of the ongoing friendship between his country and the United States, and between Otani and the Schulz Museum. He also explained the significance of cherry trees, and the annual celebrations that take place in Japan each spring, when people have picnics beneath the flowering trees, the goal being to eat good food, drink plenty of sake and reflect upon life's blessings.

(It may be awhile before this tree grows enough to permit such an indulgence, but we'll be first in line with our picnic baskets when it does!)

Following these remarks, the ends of the tree's robe were pulled by Jeannie, Karen, Yoshi and Deputy Consul General Harada, and the tree was "introduced" to the world (or at least that small portion of it present as witnesses). All four obligingly stood during a multitude of photos, and then we all broke into informal groups (and, in several cases, for a quick lunch at the nearby Warm Puppy Café).

The next event was quite a bit more dramatic, in its own way. Museum attendance has increased significantly by 12:30 p.m., when folks filed into the Great Hall to discover that the entire area — floor and walls — in front of Yoshi's giant Charlie Brown and Lucy mural had been carefully covered with huge sheets of white paper. Two additional huge sheets had been taped on top, awaiting ... what? A few lucky visitors were able to snag cushions that had been placed directly in front of this intriguing display ... in what might have been called the "splash zone" in a marine park. Other folks filled chairs and stood further back; still others stood on the staircase overlooking the Great Hall, and sat upstairs in the back balcony.

Japanese taiko drummer Rin Matoba set up two large drums and assorted other percussion instruments in a corner directly beneath Otani's huge "Morphing Snoopy" sculpture. She waited, her eyes intent on the front area.

She began to play her drums at 1 p.m. promptly, as Yoshi — clad quite dramatically in a ceremonial robe — appeared from the short hallway that leads to the museum's video nook. He seized a huge brush, addressed the white paper almost as if it were a mortal foe, and set to work. With the help of an assistant who held out an equally large pot of black ink, Yoshi attacked the paper with a ferocity that was accompanied by what could have been battle cries. Several of these massive lines began as the brush was slammed ferociously onto the paper, black ink spraying in all directions. (Nervously eyeing the surrounding walls — not to mention the mural on the wall behind Yoshi — I was reminded of actor Roy Scheider's classic line from the movie Jaws, as the shark unexpectedly rears its head: "You're gonna need a bigger boat." In this case, many of us worried that those protective white paper barriers needed to be much, much taller!)

As the minutes passed, a huge Japanese kanji symbol appeared. Switching to a smaller brush, Yoshi then added what everybody immediately recognized was Snoopy's cheerful head. Carefully applied spatters of yellow paint completed the piece, at which point he stood back, admired the finished result and then moved to the second virgin sheet of paper. The process was repeated, albeit on a slightly larger scale, this sheet of paper being twice the size of the first. After completing this kanji symbol, Yoshi then sketched what we all quickly recognized as the famous Charlie Brown and Snoopy "friendship" pose, looking on — in this case — at Mount Fuji in the background.

These two works of art were completed in 35 minutes, during which time Matoba played her drums without pause. Her rhythms shifted in volume and intensity, depending upon Yoshi's movements. The percussive performance was electrifying and, frankly, it was difficult to decide who to watch; her features were expressive and captivating, her small but powerful body as acrobatic as an Olympic gymnast. When she concluded, amid thunderous applause, she wasn't even breathing hard. Truly amazing.

Yoshi and Matoba both took well-deserved bows, and then retired briefly in order to change back into less formal outfits. The artworks, meanwhile, were carefully lifted and held aloft, so that everybody could see them clearly. They then were carried into the adjacent exhibit hall, where they were placed on the floor and surrounded by portable barriers, so that people could view them clearly but resist any temptation to touch them.

(Few noticed, but Yoshi later applied a few finishing touches. An artist's work is never done.)

Clad once more in his white Snoopy coat, Yoshi then graciously sat at a table in the Great Hall, shaking hands, accepting congratulatory remarks and signing posters and other items. Matoba received her share of attention as well, which seemed to surprise her; she smiled and bowed sweetly at each visitor who enthused over her performance.

By this point it was mid-afternoon, and folks finally drifted off to various activities: taking in the museum's new exhibit, Name Dropping; strolling to the nearby Snoopy's Gift Shop and Gallery, to make some important purchases; or simply relaxing in the back courtyard, beneath the tree that holds Charlie Brown's kite.

The day's final activity began at 6 p.m., as a Members-Only Reception officially kicked off the aforementioned Name Dropping exhibit. Well over 100 people enjoyed wine, barbecued sausages in various flavors, cheeses, cookies, vegetable dips and all sorts of other appetizers. Members of Yoshi's Japanese entourage surprised everybody with several trays of Japanese sweets, all wrapped so attractively that few wanted to actually open and eat them.

Longtime museum friend and Peanuts fan Steve Turner, who had driven all the way from North Carolina to attend this event, had filmed Yoshi and Matoba's entire performance earlier in the afternoon. During his "down time" prior to the evening reception, he downloaded the results onto a disc so the movie could be screened in the museum's theater; folks who hadn't been able to witness the artistic performance live and in person, thus were able to see and hear the entire show. (And let it be known that Steve did a superb job; he held that camera as steady as a tripod would have done.)

Attendees also were treated with a computerized "photo booth" that allowed folks to don feathered boas and silly hats of different colors, and select one of numerous Peanuts-esque "word balloons" to hold aloft as the pictures were taken; everybody then was able to take home a souvenir print of their photos. Seeing this perfect opportunity to plug everybody's favorite blog, Derrick and his wife Gayna skipped the hats and boas, and just went for the basics.

As the saying goes, a great time was had by all.

The day was over far too soon. While additional anniversary activities were scheduled for the following day — including a master class in the art of paper cutting, led by Yoshi — we, alas, were forced to return home Saturday evening. (Life intrudes. It has a way of doing that.)

It has been a grand 10 years. We look forward to being on hand for the 20th anniversary (and any other special events that occur between now and then!).

Late update: Jeannie Schulz's son, Brooke Clyde, took all sorts of pictures that Saturday; many have been posted on Jeannie's blog. I'm jealous of the shots he got of the taiko drummer!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous posting, matching the spectacular event the Schulz Museum put on! Here's to another 10 years Celebrating Charles M Schulz and the Peanuts Gang! Wow!