by BRADY RUSSELL
Philadelphia recently hosted an exhibition called “This is a Love Letter,” of notes and drawings by Charles Schulz to a mistress in Philadelphia. The show was held at SPACE 1026, an artist space and gallery connected in its own way to comics history. Founded by young artists from Providence, SPACE 1026 was founded to be Philadelphia’s own Fort Thunder. The gallery and workspace at 10th and Arch Street has been going more than 10 years. SPACE 1026 is one of the most interesting forces in Philadelphia’s art scene.
And its members also dig Sparky.
Space 1026 is proud to present This is a Love Letter, a collection of personal letters fromPeanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz to native Philadelphian Tracey Claudius. Providing a rare glimpse into the beloved cartoonist’s life and private thoughts in the early ’70s, this event marks the first time the letters will be presented to the public by their owner, Claudius’ daughter Katie Leeman .
David Michaelis’ biography of Charles M. Schulz, Schulz and Peanuts (Harper-Perennial, 2008), revealed the beloved Peanuts icon’s relationship with fan and friend, Tracey Claudius. During the 70s, Schulz briefly dated Claudius, and the famed cartoonist wrote nearly one hundred poignant and heartfelt letters to her throughout their time together. Now unearthed by Claudius’ daughter, these love letters bear testimony to a warm and affectionate two-year relationship, and offer a tender glimpse at the mind that created an international institution.
“This Is Not A Love Letter” is full of heartbreakingly sweet letters and drawings from one very lovelorn cartoonist. Much like his cartoons, Schulz’s letters to Tracey Claudius cover a little over two years. Much like his comics, he uses a lot of repeated jokes and references to endear himself to his audience. Only this time his work is for an audience of one. Begging for more phone calls. Paeans to “beeping” her nose. Revisiting the time he hugged her in the bookstore shortly after they first met. He was using his letters to remind Claudius of how great it all was when they first met.
I love Schulz’s work. It was really exciting for me to see the casual and fun way he used his drawings and his characters in his personal life. To me, it suggests just how much the Peanuts gang was an extension of the man. The letters are romantic like a schoolhouse crush, but talking to the show organizers made me see them pretty differently. Apparently the relationship began as Schulz’s first marriage was coming apart. It’s not a story that fits in easily to the public understanding of America’s most lovable cartoonist.
As you follow the letters around the room, they start off in an excited crush. Then they become sadder, as he writes more and more about missing Claudius and the letters suggest that he seems to be seeing her less and less. Toward the end, there’s a sad series of drawings of Charlie Brown on six different pieces of construction paper. Each page is a one panel joke using the background color in the punchline. All of the jokes come at the expense of poor Charlie Brown, who is trying as hard as he can to win a smile from the girl he likes.
Here’s some photos of pieces in the show, which closed to the public late this past Friday night: