On Saturday, New Yorkers will be able see the original Kermit-the-Frog puppet (among many other creatures) with a visit to the newest permanent collection to the Museum of The Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, The Jim Henson Exhibition. Henson along with his wife Jane, were pioneers in animatronics and the visual arts and are the masterminds responsible for some of the most famous explorations in puppeteering, including childhood favorites such as Sesame Street and The Muppets as well as the animated sci-fi classics, Dark Crystal and the George Lucas produced Labyrinth.
The exhibition features both a chance to view the original versions of some of Henson’s most beloved creations (Miss Piggy in her Wedding gown, and an 8-foot-2 Big Bird, and the creatures of Fraggle Rock just to name a few) as well as the original sketches for many of Henson’s designs, the costuming from his films and a series of moving image displays along with short video clips as well. Altogether, the exhibition features over 300 artifacts of Henson’s in these various styles (puppetry, animation and 2D art), which were all chosen from a pool of 500 artifacts donated to the museum by Henson’s family in 2013.
Plans for this exhibition had initially started all the way back in 2014, but fell through due to funding issues. However, this year, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that aggregated over 2,000 backers, the project was able to reach its needs in just two days. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs donated a new gallery space, and now Henson fans can experience his work in a way that’s both informative and visually stunning.
Weaving through a colorful and dynamic set up, the exhibition immediately draws in the audience with a large video installation that shows a preview of the exhibition, including clips of both famous and obscure creations of Henson’s. From there, visitors can move through the exhibit at their leisure, traveling through seven clearly marked sections. Among these sections are displays of Henson’s “Early Work” “Experiments” and “Immersive Worlds” along with sections devoted especially to “Sesame Street” and “The Muppets.”
One especially intriguing piece of the exhibit is an interactive moment, which gives the audience a chance to really engage with Henson’s process. This piece, entitled “Design an Anything Muppet Charcter,” first shows how Henson’s long-time puppet builder Rollie Krewson created the “Anything Muppet” characters for Sesame Street and then allows guests to design one themselves and watch as the digital prototype transforms with their selections.
Another notable moment is a large projection in “The Muppets” section, which displays all 120 episodes of the original Muppet television series “The Muppets Show,” simultaneously running next one another in their own contained square.
Henson leaves quite the legacy behind after working in his own innovative field from 1954 up until his death in 1990. Icons have starred in his work (David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth) as well as made guest appearances on his shows, including Steven Martin and Gene Kelly on the The Muppets Show. He’s also won many awards for his work such as four consecutive Emmy’s for Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies. His most lasting legacy may be the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop which started in 1979, and was originally comprised of the staff that helped create Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Today it continues to bring in new talent and “set industry standards in animatronics, performance and performance technology,” according to the official Jim Henson biography.
In addition to celebrating Henson’s impactful career, the exhibit also evokes a simultaneous sense of nostalgia. One example, coming at the end of the exhibit, is a special legacy video installation, which is composed of an artful arrangement of twelve monitors showing images and clips of Henson’s characters and collaborators. Then, throughout the show, quotes by Henson and Henson’s colleagues are scattered on the walls. One quote from Jerry Juhl, one Henson’s main collaborators reads: “This guy was a sailor who had studied the compass and found that there was a fifth direction in which on could sail. When he offered me a berth on that ship, I signed on.”
Next, Check out: 11 Not to Miss Outdoor Art Installations in NYC This July as well as The World’s Biggest Puppet Festival in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Get in touch with the author: @Erika_A_Stark.