In Santa Rosa in December, I was driving by the downtown library, and stopped to pay a visit to Downtown Charlie Brown, whom I created for Peanuts on Parade: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz, a public art project honoring the cartoonist whose work delighted me as both a child and an adult. (You can scroll down to see one of my Joe Cool statues, done a couple of years later, whom I visited another time).
I created Charlie in 2005 for the Courthouse Square Association, now part of the Downtown Association. He spent his first summer outside Sawyer’s News, then a couple of years at Courthouse Square, and has lived since then at the downtown library in Santa Rosa.
All around his shirt are buildings based on the architecture of buildings around and near Courthouse Square, inhabited by the Peanuts characters, dancing, having root beer, reading, getting lunch, making art, walking and talking, playing the piano — all straight out of the comic strip.
There are a lot of stories I can tell about my Charlie, but this is my favorite…. He’s blushing, you see. That pink note he’s holding says, “Meet me downtown, Charlie Brown. Signed, Little Red-haired Girl.”
All the artists worked together in a big warehouse, over the course of a week. Each day, a couple of hours in the afternoon were designated for people to come and watch us at work, and see the statues in process. I had my design drawing out for visitors to look at, and every woman who commented on it said something like, “Oh, how sweet!” while every man who commented said something like, “Yeah — like that’ll ever happen!”
At the end of the week, I was the last artist still finishing my statue. I’d worked and slept all night locked up in that warehouse, just me and all the Charlie statues. In the morning, Craig Schulz, Charles Schulz’s son, came in and walked over to see how I was coming along. When he got to the back of the statue, he stopped, pointed at a character who was getting lunch at a deli with Charlie Brown, and exclaimed in surprise, “Where did you get that picture of the Little Red-haired Girl?”
I told him she was a character named Peggy Jean. He looked back at the statue, and said, thoughtfully, that there were some characters who would appear for a few weeks and then never be seen again. And she was exactly what the Red-haired Girl looked like.
I’d never seen the Little Red-haired Girl. She’d appeared briefly only once, at the end of a Valentine Day TV special, Craig told me, and I hadn’t seen it. I had underpainted that part of the statue orangey-red, but I was just about to paint her hair in blonde. Craig stopped me just in time.
In an interview I had seen that he gave close to the end of his life, Charles Schulz said that he regretted that Charlie never got to kick the football, and he never got to talk to the Little Red-Haired Girl. All week I had the sense that he was watching all of us artists and smiling. And here the Little Red-haired Girl had shown up to meet Charlie Brown on the statue without my knowing it.... So love won out! It was a little art miracle. Art can do things like that sometimes.
Karen Lynn Ingalls is an artist and art teacher in Napa Valley, California. She wants to spread love, in the form of art installations of hearts, as far and wide as possible, beginning in Napa Valley. The art she does apart from this project can be seen locally at Jessel Gallery in Napa, and online at www.KarenLynnIngalls.com.
Hearts Across the Valley is a 2017 community-based public art project in Napa Valley, California, created by artist and art teacher Karen Lynn Ingalls. A series of art installations in as many places throughout the valley as possible, it is intended to spread love across the valley, and beyond. Ultimately, hundreds of people will be involved in its creation, and the installations will be seen by valley residents and visitors alike.