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Jim Henson’s Fantastic World

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Over the weekend, I became a renegade nerd journalist. The husband and I went to see Lakeview Museum’s “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” exhibit, and despite many signs telling us not to take pictures, we did anyway with a kind of crappy camera phone. Because I love Geektress.

Anyway, a lot of you reading this probably grew up on Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock. I did. Sesame Street was my life when I was really little. Big Bird was real to me. My mom paid for HBO when I was a kid partially so my brother and I could watch Fraggle Rock. I also remember being allowed to watch The Muppet Show, despite being far too young to even care about any of the jokes. The highlight of my very young life was going on vacation to Sesame Place when I was about 5. I don’t remember peeing my pants in glee, but I’m pretty positive I did.

As little kids, we all appreciated Jim Henson’s work, even if we didn’t know his name or realize that Bert and Ernie were puppets and not reality. But as an adult, I developed a completely new appreciation for Jim Henson after visiting this exhibit and listening to his wife, Jane Henson, speak a couple of weeks ago.

Jane Henson flew into Peoria for one night only to talk about her husband and his legacy. She started her presentation with a series of counting videos Jim had created and directed. I was suddenly 3 again, watching two little cats destroying a dollhouse where two little dolls lived with two little beds and two little cups with two little plates. I revisited the Queen of Six and the King of Eight. We watched a series of videos and commercials, most of them dating to before Sesame Street, all of them featuring Muppets and Jim Henson’s amazing sense of humor. Jane Henson finished the presentation with Jim’s Oscar nominated short film, Time Piece – a work intended for adults but with much of his inherent innocence. There was then a Q&A, but the less said about that the better. A smaller venue didn’t mean escape from batshit crazy fans. One dude even brought his own fox puppet, which was dressed like a cheap hooker and he made it greet everyone who came into the lecture hall. Not cool.

But yeah, as an adult, I have a better understanding of just how talented and creative Jim Henson was. He was so obsessed with abstract shapes and movement and color and sound that I wonder if he had synesthesia, a condition of sensory overlap where sounds also have tastes and colors have textures, and numbers and letters have colors or genders or entire personalities. He had such an amazingly unique way of seeing the world that appealed to me as a child and still appeals to me as an adult. “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is mostly comprised of pieces from before Sesame Street. There are a lot of storyboards and little 8 second spots Jim worked on from the ‘50s. As a creative person, it was way cool to see someone else’s creative process. There are a lot of proto-character designs. Of course Kermit is there, as are Bert and Ernie and Gobo from Fraggle Rock. There are a couple of pieces from The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but the exhibit doesn’t go beyond about 1983. At the end, there was a make your own Muppet station with all kinds of felt pieces and crazy hair scraps, but it had been overrun by small children, so Dave and I will have to go back one of these days while school is in.

“Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” is a travelling exhibit with multiple setups. Peoria will have this one until May 1st, but if one comes to a city near you, and you have any love at all for Jim Henson, go check it out.

   

If you're going to be at C2E2 this weekend, Archaia Comics is hosting a panel Sunday, March 20 from 11:45am - 12:45pm, in room 470b, where the never-before-seen “Alexander the Grape,” a short film from the 1960’s when Henson was just beginning to discover his calling, will be shown in its entirety. The panel will also display rare photographs, historical material, and feature a presentation by the Henson archivist, Karen Falk.

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Comments (4)

Francene:

Wait, Bert and Ernie are PUPPETS? *runs away sobbing*

Chelsea:

I remember going to see Sesame Street Live! in ATL when I was about 4. My mom bought backstage passes and i got to "meet" Big Bird, Elmo and Cookie Monster. I also remember being upset cause I didn't get to meet Oscar the Grouch. :)

Carey:

One of the first movies I ever went to see was Follow That Bird. I still cry over it at 32.

Muffinzelda:

I always wonder if Follow that Bird was inspired by the scene in The Muppet Movie where Kermit and Fozzie are going west to get rich and famous and they meet Big Bird on his way east to break into Public Television. *sigh,* damn you Congress for trying to dash the dreams of future Big Birds... anyway, great article Carey. I loved Jim Henson so much.