Lucy, the Peanuts character created by Minneapolis-born cartoonist Charles Schultz, is getting a makeover and traveling the world.
She’s trading in her blue dress and bobby socks for an elaborately designed outfit inspired by Hmong traditions and design, complete with head covering, dramatic eye makeup, jewelry, a pink bow in the back, and delicate white shoes.
It’s all part of the St. Paul-Changsha's gift exchange project. Nkauj Hmong Lucy is one of five Peanuts sculptures that will be shipped to the capitol of the Hunan district in China later this spring. It marks the 30th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between St. Paul and Changsha, which is anchored by the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, Minnesota Chapter.
Local artist Kao Lee Thao was approached by the Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society to design a Hmong-inspired Peanuts character. She was excited to be part of something aimed at uniting different communities through art.
Thao grew up watching Peanuts TV specials, and believes the cartoon inspired her to be an animator.
“Working on Lucy was a return to my earlier animation career,” she says. “My artistic return is mirrored in Lucy’s journey to Changsha, returning back to our Hmong origins.”
Hmong people lived in Changsha and other parts of China until they were forced out in the 18th and 19th century into mountainous regions of Southeast Asia. For that reason, and because the Hmong community is so strong in St. Paul, MCFGS included the Hmong Peanuts design in their in-process sister-city Friendship Garden at Phalen Park as well.
“The Hmong have endured many hardships displaced around the world, but we will continue to thrive and adapt to our ever changing world," Thao says.
For the project, Thao considered how to impart her artistic voice while also bringing her Hmong culture into the work. She has always been fond of Hmong textiles, which she incorporates into the design. There are also symbols that are more personal. “I’m surrounded daily by Hmong customs,” she says.
Around Nkauj Hmong Lucy’s neck is a beautiful design of a Hmong necklace. “Hmong necklaces are typically made of silver,” Thao says, adding that they are worn as protective amulets to ward off evil. “Due to persecution, Hmong woman would sew our written language into traditional patterns to keep them secret, and we continue to carry hidden messages.”
Thao decided to give Lucy a bright eye color, and she also changed the shape of her eyes. “Peanut character’s eyes are round in appearance,” Thao says. “I chose to bring Lucy’s eyes to life by slightly changing the shape to appear more ethnic, while still echoing the vibrant Hmong color palette.”
The Minnesota China Friendship Garden Society, an offshoot of USCPFA-MN, is leading the organizing for the gift exchange program. They have already revealed another sculpture of Snoopy, taking a nap on top of his dog house, earlier this year. Designed by Shen Yudong, the piece features symbols of a loon, a lady slipper, pines, and a butterfly.
This Saturday, the Hmong Cultural Plaza Advisory Group hosts the reveal ceremony for Nkauj Hmong Lucy. There will be plenty of opportunities to take pictures of the unique creation, and there will be a short presentation from Thao.
Nkauj Hmong Lucy reveal ceremony
1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, February 10
Community School of Excellence
270 Larpenteur Ave. W., St. Paul