Peanuts...Naturally: Charlie Brown and Friends Explore Nature

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Steph Samera

Published on December 29, 2012

  • Description:

    This December, I went to the Florida Museum of Natural History located in Gainesville, Florida which has been part of the University of Florida since 1905. The FMNH is near my hometown of Lake City where it originally began in 1891. I am glad I made my choice to visit this museum outside New York City for a lovely change of scenery.
    At the FMNH, their special exhibit on view is entitled “Peanuts… Naturally: Charlie Brown and Friends Explore Nature” which is on view until January 2, 2013. It is a traveling exhibition from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California. The comic strip Peanuts in this small museum exhibition is also smartly connected to environmental awareness along with tying in important aspects of Florida’s natural history and ecology. The cleanliness and humor of the exhibit was refreshing to participate in as a visitor on my holiday vacation.
    Upon entering the exhibit, a wonderful sign hanging from the ceiling of the hallway entrance includes the title of the exhibition along with acknowledging the Charles M. Schulz Museum which was a pleasant surprise to me as I had never heard of his museum until my visit. The wall text on the right of the entrance along with Peanuts’ graphics states “Make your Peanuts!” and it provides a mixture of the comic strips along with some wall text about the some of environmental ideas presented in the exhibit. Once I showed my stamp to enter the exhibit, there was a large wall with complete large wall text on the introduction to “Peanuts… Naturally”. It summarizes how the Peanuts comics along with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and friends have had a global audience of over 50 years.
    After reading the introduction, I followed the pathway around the wall and then was immediately greeted by a large model of Snoopy’s red dog house. Snoopy’s dog house is very red and very cute in person and I was reminded more of the cartoon strip. The Charlie Brown movies started to flood my mind with more images of Snoopy. Immediately behind the introduction wall on my right, there are four large panels entitled “Snoopy, Name That Bird!”. These are interactive displays which children and adults can see what types of birds are in each panel. With each wall text in this area of the exhibit, there are large replicated graphics of the Peanuts comic strips which were associated with the text. For example, one of the first narratives I viewed was a comic strip on bird diets and what suets eat. Charlie Brown explains to Snoopy what suets eat and why a bird feeder should be available to them. While not all of the Charlie Brown narratives include correct scientific or environmental safety (ahem, Lucy), most of Schulz’ characters have questions about the seasons or the natural world around them. The exhibit also included birds native to Florida with a display of the actual preserved birds along with labels of their scientific names. Some of the plant material and fish these birds feed upon were also included in the glass-enclosed display kiosk.
    The next part of the exhibit was on the Sun and the solar system along with the night sky and eclipses. More interactive displays with ample seating were included here along with a neat touch screen computer to show a comparison of the sizes of a human and animals versus the planets and the entire solar system. The digital media informed me at the end that Earth is not actually in the center of the universe. I am not sure if I thought Earth was or not but it is something I did not remember from science class! There was also a small blip on Maya art and the Universe and how their calendar did not mention any cataclysmic events. This is something I did learn about in college and had no plans on believing the past hype on the world wide web.
    Further into the exhibit, the wall texts and displays discuss the storm level rise and elemental changes in Florida, too. A nice segway in the elements section on was snowflakes. It shows how Schulz displayed snowflakes in his works of art among his comic strips. Here, more comic strip narratives were on display. There was another kiosk which included mussels and their freshwater health in Florida. This was connected to the protected areas map of Florida on a large floor display which also also showed the rivers and freshwater areas of the state from the Florida Wildlife Corridor website. It was important here to show what Florida needs to restore water flow and sustain water supply for the ecology and economy.
    Finally, in the last room of the exhibit, there was a large focus exemplified by the signage noting Charlie Brown and working with the EPA which is the Environmental Protection Agency. There were more wall texts and artifacts which included a letter from former President Jimmy Carter to Charles Schulz and his work agreement with the EPA. This room also included more seating for visitors to view a short film created by Schulz which was commissioned by the American Lung Association. A storyboard on “Charlie Brown Cleans the Air” from 1979 was also included on the wall text next to the flatscreen video station.
    Overall, there were many connections to Florida’s natural world with Charlie and his Peanuts’ buddies incorporated throughout the flow of the exhibit. There were enough interactives, wall texts, and artifacts to keep visitors of different ages engaged throughout the exhibition. I hope to follow where this exhibit travels next as it could be useful for any state to explain their local and regional needs in helping the environment with the humorous influence of Snoopy and Charlie Brown to keep it lighthearted but to also show how important it was and is to get all ages to help our natural world out. The exhibit kept the subject of being environmentally friendly and aware interesting to me and it was a delightful day away from work and family during the holidays.

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