Exhibit spending “A Charlie Brown Christmas”in Chicago


G-Jun Yam

 The Museum uses “Peanuts” as a theme to teach kids science as an interesting attraction.

By Dana Mack


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THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive, is the current home of the “Peanuts…Naturally” exhibit. Curated by the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, the exhibit has traveled the U.S. since March 2012 and will be in Chicago through Jan. 3.

The exhibit integrates “Peanuts” cartoons touching on environmental concerns with displays explaining these phenomena.

Steve Sullivan, a senior curator of Urban Ecology at the Notebaert Nature Museum, gives tours of the exhibit and its features.

“Although we as human society have understood ecological issues as a science for hundreds of years, as a community we remain a little clueless about them,” Sullivan said. “Charles Schulz takes this knowledge and makes it something everybody can understand.”

Walking along a wall labeled with the titles “The Elements,” “The Universe,” “The Solar System,” “The Sun” and “The Eclipse,” Sullivan said when people think of “Peanuts,” they think of the psychological aspects and the social commentary of it.

“[Schulz] is talking about our place in the universe, not just existentially, but physically our place in the universe and how we fit into this,” Sullivan said.

The exhibit also allows visitors to watch a “Peanuts” episode on a small screen and check out anti-pollution posters from 1972. One of the posters reads “Bend a little, pick up a lot,” and the other, “Pounce on pollution.”

“Today if you see somebody litter, that’s the symbolism of ‘I’m an antisocial creep,’ whereas back [in the past] everybody littered and you had to wear a mohawk and spikes to look antisocial,” Sullivan said. “We are more tolerant of one another and less of our negative impacts on the planet.”

“Peanuts…Naturally” reaches an all-inclusive demographic. Children can watch a “Peanuts” episode with their parents or play with one of the many interactive sets on display. Meanwhile, adults can contemplate some of the broader text in the various comic strips hung on the wall.

“Charles Schulz really tuned in to the real experiences of kids,” said Michael Hays, an adjunct professor in the Design Department, regarding the cartoon’s ability to resonate with readers today.

In the middle of the exhibit sits a giant pumpkin, reminiscent of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Inside the pumpkin is a playground complete with a slide.

Sullivan said he wants visitors to leave knowing they are part of something larger in the community and on the planet.

“I hope people walk away from this exhibit with a consciousness that they are part of the planet, and they as individuals have an impact,” Sullivan said. “Regardless of whether you’re a kid or an adult in this exhibit, you’re going to have an opportunity to do something or read something here that will help you really feel that.”

“Peanuts…Naturally” is on display at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum until Jan. 3. Admission to the museum is free.