It was really interesting to get a look at Jim Henson’s background and see the progression from his beginning in commercials (which featured many Muppet ancestors) to the Muppets to Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock and the more experimental movies (Labyrinth and Dark Crystal).
They had some Muppets there (notably Rowlf, a Kermit, and Bert and Ernie), but most of the visuals were his sketches and storyboards for characters and commercials and a lot of his early work in graphic design and some of his experimental works in film that didn’t necessarily feature puppetry.
It’s amazing to get these glimpses into such an amazing mind – one which was not only so creative, but also so ambitious and determined that the world would see his ideas (he wrote many proposals and scripts that never went anywhere before he finally pitched The Muppet Show).
And I really, really want to know why puppets and the Muppets in particular are so endearing and enduring. Why are we so eager to forget about the people that we know are there, that we know are moving their mouths and their arms, and accept the Muppets as creatures? Their eyes don’t move, their mouths only open and close, and their faces have very limited ranges of visible emotion and yet, somehow, he was able to create characters that have souls and personalities! WHY?!?!?!
The exhibition itself (and this may have been a limitation of the space it was occupying) was somewhat difficult to follow – the flow wasn’t quite clear. As you can see above, I’m a bit confused about the timeline of his creations and am trying to be a bit vague about it all because the flow of the exhibit, which was sectioned into his life, early work, Muppets, Sesame Street, his non-puppet films and interests, the Fraggles, and the films, was not easy to follow. I mean, we saw everything, but it wasn’t very clear which section followed which.
I think this exhibit is on tour from the Smithsonian and has been since 2007, so I’m not sure how much longer it has to go, but if it comes near you, I’d really recommend going to see it.
What an amazing guy.