The Henson Connection

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Jim Henson with Kermit the Frog in 1978 on the set of The Muppet Movie. (Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Company/Museum of the Moving Image)

“I’ve always tried to present a positive view of the world in my work. It’s so much easier to be negative and cynical and predict doom for the world than it is to try and figure out how to make things better. We have an obligation to do the latter.” —Jim Henson

Though he died in 1990, the words of Jim Henson still resonate today—and thanks to a new exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image, his legacy of unwavering whimsy continues to endure, delight and inspire.

A collection of Henson’s fantastical characters, along with sketches, multimedia displays and a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes paraphernalia, are currently on permanent spectacle at the Astoria, Queens, museum in the Jim Henson Exhibition, made possible by a collaboration with the Henson family, The Jim Henson Legacy and The Jim Henson Company, and in cooperation with Sesame Workshop and The Muppets Studio.

Among the more than 300 objects on view in the exhibition are 47 puppets including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, The Swedish Chef, Statler, Waldorf, Big Bird, Elmo and even a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. But more than merely rows of puppets staring back at visitors, the exhibition tells Henson’s story—from experimental film producer, to restless creative performer, to filmmaker to technical innovator.

“At it’s core, this exhibition is a New York story,” said museum executive director Carl Goodman, referring not only to Henson’s base of operations, but also the true muse of his life’s work, diversity. “The exhibition opens at a time when the world could use a little reminder of the values embedded in and embodied by Jim Henson’s work: respect for difference, the value of collaboration, creativity, open-mindedness, unity amidst diversity and kindness—all conveyed through a potent combination of art, film and media and humor.”

That combination shines through in displays dedicated to Henson’s many well-known projects, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The exhibition also dives deep into Henson’s lesser-known and earlier works like Sam and Friends and various commercials.

Jim Henson’s characters provided an outlet for the various sides of his sense of humor and personality, and Henson always considered Kermit the Frog his alter ego. (Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company/The Museum of the Moving Image)

Walking around the exhibit, it is easy to get lost in nostalgia—but the lovers and dreamers who organized the exhibit took great care to connect Henson’s spirit to today’s world. From his quotes scrawled throughout to every episode of The Muppet Show playing on a constant loop, Jim Henson is shown to be more relevant than ever.

“My father and his many collaborators took great joy in making innovative television and film productions that featured these beautiful puppets,” said Cheryl Henson, daughter of Jim Henson and president of The Jim Henson Foundation. “My family is thrilled to see this exhibit become a permanent destination here in New York and hope Jim Henson’s story will inspire future generations to celebrate their own creative hopes and dreams.”

Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave., Astoria; 718-784-0077; www.movingimage.us.

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