December 11, 2009
Polly Travnicek gave away her winning lottery ticket. And she feels richer for it.
Actually, it wasn’t a lottery ticket. Travnicek, 82, gave away the north wall of her Bonnyville home, which, on the inside, held a cartoon mural painted in 1951 by a young and unknown artist: Charles M. Schulz.
At the time, Schulz was struggling to sell his Peanuts comic strip to newspapers, while living in the new subdivision on Colorado Springs’ northern edge.
Schulz painted the mural to decorate the nursery where his daughter, Meredith, slept. Before the family moved back to Minnesota after just a year here, Meredith was joined by brother Monte and another child was on the way. Unfortunately, his comic strip’s popularity wasn’t growing as fast as his family.
The mural included his famous characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and it became legendary in the neighborhood. Especially because it only existed in their memories. The mural had been painted over.
When Polly and her husband, Stanley, bought the two-bedroom house in 1979, neighbors told her of the mural. By then, Peanuts and Schulz were world-famous. Using her expertise as a painter, Polly went to work stripping away four layers of paint from the wall until finally, she reached the brown oil paint Schulz used.
It took her months of work, painstakingly rubbing the 8-by-12 foot wall with cotton balls and paint remover.
She had no idea what she was looking for and recalls being excited when a tiger emerged. Then she found an early character Patty. And finally, Charlie Brown in his trademark zig-zag shirt, jumping over a candle.
(See photos of the wall on my blog)
“I was so happy,” she said. “For weeks, I’d rub and say ‘Where is Charlie Brown? Where is Charlie Brown? I know he’s here somewhere.’ And, finally, there he was.”
The mural was so coveted by Schulz’s family that they paid to have the entire wall removed in September, 2001 and shipped to California where it is on permanent display in the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, near San Francisco.
But they didn’t have to pay for the wall. Polly and Stanley didn’t want a dime.
“We donated it to the museum,” she said.
They donated it! As in, giving it away for free. They didn’t put it on eBay or craigslist. No hyped auction at Sotheby’s Art Auction House. No 15 minutes of fame and fortune.
“So many people said: ‘You could have sold that for millions,’” Travnicek said with a shrug. “But I feel good about it the way it is.”
It enriched her life in other ways. She welcomed hundreds of people into her home for tours after word of the mural spread.
And, due to her generosity, she continues to enjoy a close relationship with the Schulz family. She regularly corresponds with Schulz’s widow, Jean, and his children. She still reads Peanuts every morning in The Gazette. And the room where the mural was is a mini shrine to Schulz with books, photos, scrap books and other memorabilia.
And the wall, it is a centerpiece of the museum in Sonoma County.
“It’s right where it belongs,” Travnicek said. “And I feel so blessed.”
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