The Intrepid Museum’s temporary exhibition gallery has been transformed into a whimsical doghouse for our new exhibition “Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace.” This traveling exhibition includes 29 high-resolution iris prints of Schulz’s original comic strips. Also on display are examples of Peanuts characters painted by Intrepid crew members when the ship was in commission. The exhibit highlights Snoopy as a pop culture icon whose active imagination entertained and inspired crew members aboard the Intrepid.
In describing the Peanuts characters, Schulz said, “Charlie Brown is the way I am, and Snoopy is the way I wish I could be.” While Charlie Brown is consumed by worry and never seems to catch a break, Snoopy has an active imagination that allows him to escape his mundane existence, if only in his dreams. Over the strip’s 50-year history, Snoopy adopted approximately 150 distinct personas. Perhaps his most beloved alter ego was the World War I Flying Ace, who debuted in 1965 and starred in over 400 Peanuts strips. Dashing, charming, gallant, and brave - the Flying Ace never shot down his nemesis, the Red Baron, but he won the hearts of Peanuts fans.
What makes Snoopy’s fantasy life so engaging is Charles Schulz’s careful attention to historical accuracy. Snoopy does not merely imagine himself to be a pilot; he is a famous World War I Flying Ace who uses period phrases such as “Flying Circus,” flies a World War I-era fighter plane, and wears appropriate aviator gear for the time period. Schulz’s commitment to precision can be seen in myriad details from the Flying Ace’s lack of a parachute to his desperate dash across “No-Man’s Land.” Although Schulz’s drawing style was relatively simple, he created a captivating fantasy world rich in historical detail.
In addition to appearing in newspapers worldwide, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang were a colorful presence aboard the Intrepid. Crew members personalized their living and working spaces by painting cartoons and other artworks directly on the ship’s steel walls. This “sailor art” often depicted popular comic strip characters in scenes that reflected shipboard life. For Intrepid sailors, Charlie Brown and Snoopy offered a connection to home. Just as Snoopy adopted his Flying Ace persona to escape the indignities of his dog’s life, sailors aboard Intrepid turned to cartoons like Peanuts for a brief respite from their dangerous jobs aboard an aircraft carrier at sea.
While some sailor art paintings are quick doodles, others exhibit an attention to detail that Schulz might have appreciated. Intrepid crew members transformed Snoopy into one of their own, a sailor immersed in the day-to-day routines of life at sea. One example of sailor art, which was painted on an office door, depicts Snoopy wearing the classic white “Dixie cup” sailor hat, a staple of the U.S. Navy uniform since the late 19th century. Another painting captures a joyfully dancing Snoopy under the caption “Happiness is PMS.” You’ll have to visit our exhibition to find out what PMS meant to a sailor aboard Intrepid!
Check out “Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace” on view at the Intrepid Museum from now until April 30, 2010.
Curator of History
“Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace” is a Program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance and The National Endowment for the Arts