"Jim Henson's Fantastic World"

The Smithsonian's exhibit will delve into the Muppet creator's imaginative process. Before its stint at the Museum of the Moving Image, director of archives for the Jim Henson Company Karen Falk discusses the show's highlights.

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  • Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.

    Kermit the Frog "The Kermit in the exhibit is one that [Jim] performed---it's...

    Kermit the Frog
    "The Kermit in the exhibit is one that [Jim] performed---it's like [seeing] an old friend. A lot of the museums [that hosted this traveling show] have been complaining: They've had to stock up on glass cleaner because kids are kissing the case. Jim always said that Kermit was one of his alter egos. Kermit embodied that sort of leadership role that Jim had, but also, as Kermit would say, 'I'm going nuts, this place is full of crazies, but I'm the one who hired them!'"

  • Photograph: courtesy of The Jim Henson Company

    Mom, don't we need a watchdog? cartoon"Jim was interested in telling stories...

    Mom, don't we need a watchdog? cartoon
    "Jim was interested in telling stories with pictures, that's part of what he was trying to do as a young man. He thought for a while he wanted to be a cartoonist, but I think as he discovered opportunities in television he saw that cartoons weren't going to do it: They were black-and-white and he needed color; they were still and he needed motion; they were silent and he needed music."

  • Photograph: courtesy of The Jim Henson Company

    Storyboard for a Wilkins Coffee commercial"People who don't know too much about...

    Storyboard for a Wilkins Coffee commercial
    "People who don't know too much about Jim will be surprised by how much work he did in advertising in the 1950s and '60s. He really was in that Mad Men world, starting off in local Washington television [writing and performing] eight-second commercials for the Wilkins Coffee Company. [We have] a group of items: a prop camera that Jim built, the storyboard for that particular commercial and a video [of the ad]."

  • Photograph: Courtsey The Muppets Studio; LLC.

    Rowlf the Dog"The particular puppet that we have in the exhibit was built for...

    Rowlf the Dog
    "The particular puppet that we have in the exhibit was built for The Muppet Show, but Rowlf preexisted The Muppet Show by more than a decade. The original  was built in 1962 for a Dog Chow commercial. Rowlf was a nationally recognized character, he had a regular gig on The Jimmy Dean Show for three years. Jim appeared every week with Rowlf bantering with Jimmy Dean and gave audiences a chance to get to know this character and gave Jim a chance to develop a personality and a backstory."

  • Photograph: Courtsey The Muppets Studio; LLC.

    Beaker"[This] is Jim's original sketch. [It's displayed] with a record album...

    Beaker
    "[This] is Jim's original sketch. [It's displayed] with a record album cover that he did in the '50s, for some friends of his mother [who] were organists. It's a picture of these two men playing organs, but they look completely like Bunsen and Beaker. It's an example of Jim's design sensibility. [He was] really looking at shapes and the juxtaposition of shapes. You see over and over again with the Muppet characters a round, shorter character with a tall, thin character. Whether it's Bert and Ernie, Bunsen and Beaker, even Miss Piggy and Kermit worked out that way. It's just funny to look at and you immediately get the hint that there are two different personalities here."

  • Photograph: J.B. Spector; Courtesy Museum of Science+Industry Chicago.

    Miss Piggy"She's wearing her costume from The Muppets Take Manhattan, which was...

    Miss Piggy
    "She's wearing her costume from The Muppets Take Manhattan, which was shot in Queens and Manhattan. She wasn't in the touring exhibit, [although] she did show in Chicago---that was suitable to her needs as a celebrity."

  • Photograph: Courtsey The Muppets Studio; LLC.

    Time Piece"Another thing a lot of people don't know about Jim's [work in]...

    Time Piece
    "Another thing a lot of people don't know about Jim's [work in] experimental film. He made a nine-minute, live-action film in 1964 called Time Piece, which he actually starred in, [and] it was nominated for an Academy Award in 1965 for Best Short. We juxtaposed five minutes of the film with Jim's storyboard images, so you can compare what he drew with what he actually got up on the screen."

  • Photograph: Courtsey The Muppets Studio; LLC.

    Jim Henson's Time Piece. Composite image from the film, 1964

    Jim Henson's Time Piece. Composite image from the film, 1964.

  • Photograph: Courtsey The Muppets Studio; LLC.

    Original design for Oscar the Grouch"[The first Oscar Jim designed was] sort of...

    Original design for Oscar the Grouch
    "[The first Oscar Jim designed was] sort of magenta: pink, purple, reddish. [But] in the first season [of Sesame Street], Oscar was orange and Jim didn't really like the color. That's why he got changed to green the next year."

  • Photograph: Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company

    Kira's dress from The Dark Crystal"It's a beautiful dress, and the workmanship...

    Kira's dress from The Dark Crystal
    "It's a beautiful dress, and the workmanship in it speaks to the care that went into developing The Dark Crystal. Jim created the world first with [fantasy illustrator] Brian Froud. They developed a whole cosmology and different species and how they related to each other. For each one they had very distinctive costumes and props. I think this dress lets you know an awful lot about the character without even seeing her."

  • Cantus and Gobo Fraggle"We end the exhibit with Cantus and Gobo Fraggle...

    Cantus and Gobo Fraggle
    "We end the exhibit with Cantus and Gobo Fraggle. Fraggle Rock was really Jim's gift to children. The idea was that children would watch the show about tolerance, understanding, interdependency and ecological interconnectivity, grow up and bring that to their adult lives and cause world peace to break out across the globe. Jim has said that television is educational whether it's meant to be or not, so you might as well put things out there that are going to have good messages and positive influences."

Photo courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.

Kermit the Frog "The Kermit in the exhibit is one that [Jim] performed---it's...

Kermit the Frog
"The Kermit in the exhibit is one that [Jim] performed---it's like [seeing] an old friend. A lot of the museums [that hosted this traveling show] have been complaining: They've had to stock up on glass cleaner because kids are kissing the case. Jim always said that Kermit was one of his alter egos. Kermit embodied that sort of leadership role that Jim had, but also, as Kermit would say, 'I'm going nuts, this place is full of crazies, but I'm the one who hired them!'"

Exhibition screenings


Every Saturday and Sunday at 1pm, MoMI will screen Henson creations in their on-site movie theater and program special ticketed events. As the Jim Henson Creature Workshop and the studios where Sesame Street is filmed are just around the corner, there will be plenty of appearances from the creative forces behind the works. Below are some of our favorites on the agenda.

The Muppet Movie
The original (and still the best) Muppet film plays for the first two weekends of the exhibition. Actor Austin Pendleton (Max) will introduce the movie on opening day. July 16, 17, 23, 24 at 1pm. Free with museum admission.

"Look Both Ways and Go"
Jane Henson, Jim Henson's wife and collaborator, will show home-video clips before a screening of Henson's Time Piece, an Academy-Award-nominated short film on an archival 35mm print. Sept 18 at 4pm. $25, members $15.

"Muppet Music Moments"
The Jim Henson Legacy presents a compilation of musical numbers for two nights only, beginning on what would have been Henson's 75th birthday. The Muppet Show's musical consultant Larry Grossman will be on hand on Sept 24, opening night. Sept 24, 25 at 1pm. Free.

Prerelease screening of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
The man behind the little red monster, Kevin Clash, discusses this documentary, which premiered at Sundance. And yes, Elmo will be there too. Date TBA. $TBA.

Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave at 37th St, Astoria, Queens (718-777-6888, movingimage.us). Tue--Thu 10:30am--5pm; Fri 10:30am--8pm; Sat, Sun 10:30am--7pm. $10, seniors and students $7.50, children 3--18 $5, members and children under 3 free. Fri 4--8pm free; film tickets free with museum admission. July 16--Jan 16. Download a free exhibition podcast (right click and save target as).

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