This month CMA took a field trip to the The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI). The outing was led by CMA’s Director of Development and Emmy Award-winning producer Elizabeth Hummer. For someone who works in children’s media, it was very inspiring to walk into the world that MoMI has assembled: every aspect is so vibrant, creatively detailed, and thoughtfully selected to educate and engage patrons. I can’t imagine that Henson himself would have wanted it any other way.
I became taken with Jim Henson’s felt and furry universe at a young age. At 9, I kept Christopher Finch’s Jim Henson: The Works – The Art, the Magic, the Imagination checked out of the library and guarded under my arm at all times. The weighty book detailed Henson’s childhood, career, and inventions through pages and pictures. It looked beyond a talking frog and 9-foot tall bird, peering into the creative process and thinking of a man pushing the boundaries of early television. For years Henson’s robust legacy was only accessible through written and cinematic compilations, but it was only a matter of time before a space as extraordinary as the man himself was assembled to highlight his career.
Located in Astoria, Queens, MoMI has hosted past exhibits featuring selections of Henson’s works and film experiments over the years, all of which were met by excited museum-goers, finally getting to see Henson’s creations up close. Up to that point, there were few opportunities to see many of these archived pieces outside of special events. The exhibits left many visitors dreaming of the day when a more expansive collection of old and new works would get a permanent home. Eventually these dreams came true, and after years of city funding and a Kickstarter campaign to fully restore many of the puppets featured in the exhibit, the permanent display finally opened in late July 2017. The exhibit was made public to thrilling industry reviews and Swedish Chef selfies, courtesy of all the guests who were there on the first day.
The exhibition is not only brought to life by Henson’s puppets but also sketches, photos, exploratory films, props, costumes, and inventions made available by a large donation from the Henson family. Throughout this special wing of the museum, there are opportunities for people of all ages to stop and interact with elements of the exhibit. Between viewing early sketches of puppets and Henson’s days in commercial work, you’ll find an area where you can practice your on-camera puppeteering skills. And in less than five seconds you’ll have a whole new respect for the craft. Also included is a section where you can build your own puppet. I loved trying varying combinations of hair and accessories. Naturally, I started with a mini version of myself and then experimented with other fun looks. And of course, the best part of all (for me at least) was seeing Kermit and Miss Piggy. I’m not sure how you don’t feel warm and fuzzy (no pun intended) when seeing these iconic characters. Other patrons enjoyed seeing the full-scale Big Bird suit (as worn by puppeteer Caroll Spinney), David Bowie’s Jareth costume from Labyrinth and an original Dark Crystal Skeksis puppet, which is even more detailed and jaw-dropping in person than you could ever imagine.
In addition to the permanent collection, the museum plans to host educational programs, family workshops, screenings, and guest speakers as part of its programming for the exhibit. Just this week, An Evening with Frank Oz was announced for Friday, September 22. Oz was a friend of Henson, and the duo were known for their long-running creative partnership dating back to 1963. More information on An Evening with Frank Oz can be found here. You can also find more information and ticketing for The Jim Henson Exhibition here.