This just in from Ben Saunders, Professor of English, at the University of Oregon about an upcoming show of original Charles Schulz artwork at U. of O.'s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) on exhibition from September 1st, 2012 through December.
Charlie Brown is nowadays immediately recognizable as an archetype of pop-existentialism. He is a loser-everyman, a cartoon representation of perennial human disappointment; but even at his most desperate, he has somehow never lost the capacity to make us laugh. His canine companion, Snoopy, by contrast, can be read as an emblem of imaginative vitality — compelling our attention with his exuberant flights of fantasy.
These great characters did not spring from Schulz’s pen fully realized. They took shape gradually, over years of disciplined, daily creative exercise. And even once they found their iconic forms, the themes of the strip continued to evolve, reflecting the changing circumstances of the second-half of the 20th century. We can detect the traces of this tumultuous history — and sometimes glean Schulz’s personal values — in these certain works, with their subtle invocations of the Civil Rights struggle, Women’s Liberation, the litigious society, and the fragility of the natural world.
Debuting on October 2nd, 1950, Peanuts ran for fifty years, until February 13th, 2000. Schulz took only one extended holiday during that entire period (for a month, in the winter of 1997). Otherwise, he worked consistently on the comic until his death — passing away just a day before the last episode saw print. In total, he produced an astonishing 17,897 Peanuts strips.
In choosing just twenty-five examples from this lifetime’s work, the sin of omission is unavoidable. Instead of pretending to an impossible comprehensiveness, we offer a series of revealing snapshots spanning the five decades of Peanuts, to produce a kind of “time-lapse” effect — allowing the viewer to take in the origins, maturation, and final years of the strip, in a slow tour of the room. Although necessarily incomplete, we believe this exhibition proves one thing. Charles Schulz’s Peanuts is not merely the most successful newspaper comic strip in the history of the medium. It is also a modern American masterpiece.