There’s really only one creative hero in my life and that’s Jim Henson. I wrote about this a little in my review of Muppet Guys Talking, but now’s my chance to geek out to Henson a lot, especially after visiting the Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited at the Skirball Culture Center in Los Angeles. My love of Henson started when I was nine with The Muppet Show first aired in 1976. Immediately drawn to Kermit, but mostly Fozzie, they were real and they connected to this young child. It wasn’t until I saw The Muppet Movie that my young mind would be blown. That’s Kermit the Frog singing on a log in the middle of a swamp and then he rode a bicycle. I had to know how that was possible! My Muppet fandom soon turned to Jim Henson fandom.
“…the legacy of Jim Henson, which is brought back to life with the traveling exhibition…”
Then came Yoda and my worlds collided. My world of Dungeons & Dragons came to life with The Dark Crystal and Bowie became cooler in Labyrinth. Then it ended.
I never forget Jim Henson’s passing in 1990. To me, his passing was felt in many ways. Were the Muppets gone forever? In a way they were. Their journey is full of hits and misses and is bound to disappear with the coming generations. But what remains is the legacy of Jim Henson, which is brought back to life with the traveling exhibition. The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited is popping up throughout the United States and is part of the bigger and permanent exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City.
“…it’s a very deep exhibition, that really digs into the creative process.”
The Jim Henson Company CEO and Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson was on hand during the exhibition’s press preview. About her father and this exhibit, she said, “In addition to showing puppets, it’s a very deep exhibition, that really digs into the creative process.”
About the exhibition’s home at the Skirball Cultural Center, she says, “It’s a pleasure to be here. The center’s mission ‘to foster community and aspire to a more compassionate connected world,’ That line described so well my father’s projects. Particularly something like Fraggle Rock, where Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers work side-by-side displayed Jim’s aspirations to foster world peace and to understand each other’s views better. It’s always been a fun and beloved show with extremely good music, but it came from a place of real responsibility to using children’s media for good.”
“Fraggle Rock…displayed Jim’s aspirations to foster world peace and to understand each other’s views better.”
The exhibition takes visitors through Henson’s vast career, starting with his early work on local television with Sam and Friends to public broadcasting and Sesame Street to his contribution to film. Then as Lisa Henson said…the Deep Dive. It then turns to Henson’s underlying creative process, his technological innovation, and his vision to forge human connections through characters and stories of individual and communities of diverse backgrounds and abilities. The walls are strewn with Henson’s thoughts about the creative process, memorable moments, and his hope for humanity.
But really, this exhibit is for the Henson and Muppet fans. Along with hundreds of the requisite drawings, notes, and Muppets, there are plenty of hands-on activities like Make-a-Muppet, trying your hand at muppeteering on camera and rocking out with Muppets to your favorite Muppet hit. There is a lot for your inner-child to geek out on including Henson’s original handwritten notes and pitches, iPads full of ideas and storyboards, and interactive stuff up the wazoo. Bring your camera or you’ll kill yourself.
“…activities like Make-a-Muppet, trying your hand at muppeteering on camera…”
Just a few things you’ll see are:
- Kermit the Frog puppet from 1978
- Handwritten scripts from Henson’s first television series, Sam and Friends (1955–1961)
- A clip from Henson’s Academy Award-nominated experimental short film Time Piece (1965)
- Puppets from Sesame Street (1969– ), including Grover, Ernie and Bert, and Count von Count
- Section on The Muppet Show (1976–1981), including puppets of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, and Scooter, as well as material from the Muppets’ transition to the big screen, such as set models and storyboards
- Jen and Kira puppets from The Dark Crystal (1982)
- Red Fraggle from Fraggle Rock (1983–1987), which celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary this year
- Jareth’s and Sarah’s ballroom costumes from Labyrinth (1986)
What exhibition would be complete without an outdoor screening of The Muppet Movie on June 29 and Labyrinth on July 13?
The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited runs at the Skirball Cultural Center from June 1 to September 8, 2018 at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA. Tickets are available online at skirball.org. General admission $12. Seniors, students, and children $9. Free on all Thursdays.