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'PEANUTS' EXHIBIT MAKES STOP IN FORT SMITH

BY LARRY WILLIAMS II // TIMES RECORD

The "Heartbreak in Peanuts" exhibit on display at the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, 1601 Rogers Ave., will soon be moving on, taking its whimsical look at love from afar with it.

Ending April 16, the traveling exhibit on loan since February from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., highlights the famous characters from Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. The main protagonist, Charlie Brown, of course, is famous for his adoration of the Little Red-Haired Girl, but is also famous for his inability to gather the courage to actually talk to her.

"We have reproductions of (Schulz's) work, and they span his entire artistic career," said Lee Ortega, executive director of RAM. "You can see the evolution of the characters throughout the years."

Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000) based many of the characters on himself, friends and co-workers, including Charlie Brown himself, who was based, according to the Schulz Museum, on a co-worker of Schulz's at Art Instruction Inc., a cartoon art correspondence school based in Minneapolis, Minn., Schulz's hometown. And the infamous Little Red-Haired Girl was based on a true lost love of Schulz's, co-worker Donna Mae Wold (nee Johnson, 1929-2016), who he dated for three years before she told him she was already engaged.

"Because these are reproductions of his actual work, on some of these, you can actually see some of the pencil lines, even though he drew primarily in ink," said Ortega.

The theme of love and heartbreak in the Peanuts comics is evident throughout the exhibit at RAM and goes beyond just Charlie Brown's heartache for the Little Red-Haired Girl. There's his sister, Sally, yearning for his best friend, Linus, whom she refers to as her "Sweet Babboo"; Linus's older sister, Lucy, continually distracting Schroeder, the piano player, with her very vocal adoration for him; and Peppermint Patty making Charlie Brown sweat with childhood awkwardness as she wonders if he's calling her up for a date whenever she answers his phone calls.

The exhibit is not just limited to wall art, though. The museum also has Peanuts memorabilia throughout the years, including plush toys, on display.

"This exhibit is all about lost love and heartbreak, but the really cool thing is that they put out different themes throughout the year," said Ortega.

RAM has an activity room for children to pen their own love letters or color in Peanuts characters, including Charlie Brown's incorrigible dog, Snoopy. Their artwork spans a third of the length of the exhibit space, and museum staff has string and laundry pins hung for more.

"We display all their artwork here in the gallery so everyone can enjoy it," said Ortega. "Originally, we had just one wall, but we had to add more space. People love it, they absolutely love it."

RAM prepares to say goodbye to the Peanuts gang April 15, allowing visitors to create their own make-and-take watercolor painting of Charlie Brown and Snoopy.

"We've had interest from all ages, because who doesn't love Charlie Brown?" said Ortega.

Even the object of Charlie Brown's unrequited love managed to pass a note to him on the way to the school bus in a 1967 television special that read, "I like you, Charlie Brown. Signed, the Little Red-Haired Girl."

Good grief!