My first “crushes” I can remember were Kermit the Frog and Disney’s Robin Hood (You know the super suave English cartoon fox.) Kermit to me was the funny, cool under pressure (generally), leader of the best band of misfits I could ever hope to encounter.I grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, so my indoctrination into the cult of Henson started early. My first or second birthday cake was a big bird head that my mom made. There are pictures somewhere of me probably around the age of four laying on the floor in front of our families huge console TV watching Sesame Street. I was Miss Piggy for Halloween when I was 5 or so. Around this same time I was terrified for the first time by The Dark Crystal; the emperors death and subsequent collapse was the cuplrit, but the Skeksis were pretty scary regardless.
Somewhere around the age of five or six my mom brought home the movie that would change me, and that remains my all time favorite film to this day, Labyrinth. This story of a plucky, and sometimes bratty, teenage girl making an ill thought out wish and having to traverse a labyrinth to save her baby brother excited my senses in a way no movie ever had before. The visuals were lush, the songs were catchy and the movie introduced me to a performer I would love from that day forward, David Bowie. (Someday I will have to go into depth about that, but this post is about Jim Henson.)
I can remember vividly when Jim Henson died. I remember the special episo that aired as a public memorial to this amazing creator who left the world far too soon, but far better than he found it. From Jim Henson I learned that it is okay to be different. That following your dreams can be hard, but it is worth it. I learned that imagination is too good a thing to waste. And that “life is like a movie, writer your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending.” I cried for the loss of Jim Henson at nine or ten years old, because I would never be able to meet him now. I would never have the chance to tell him how much I learned, and loved him and his creations.
Today my husband and I made our way to Cosi where they are hosting, The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited. We arrived this morning as the museum was opening, and made our way down the first floor corridor where we found on the left hand side a doorway ringed in hot pink fun fur. I think we were in the right place. Walking in the walls were painted kermit green (which is the same color as my dining room if that tells you anything about me). There was a quote on the first wall that I think is going to be a tattoo, “As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.”
As you approached this wall there was a turn to the right and right there was Kermit, in front of a wall with a photo of Jim and Kermit. I actually almost missed Kermit entirely somehow because I was focused on the photos and stories about Jim when he was a child and a teenager. Seth said something about me not freaking out over my boy, and as I turned to ask him what he meant there was Kermit waving hello to everyone who enters, letting them know that this is a safe space. I was shocked by how thin his fingers were, and how easily you could see he was felt from this close, but how he had always been real to me.
The exhibit is divided into several sections. You begin in his early life where interactive screens allow you to swipe through images from Jim’s sketchbooks. You get to see his inspirations for the Muppets, the beginnings of his puppetry, how he met his wife in a puppetry class, and many images and pieces from the early days of Muppets Inc. I sang along with clips from early shows using songs from the eras, watched videos of old commercials and TV appearances and marveled at how you can see the seed of what was to become even in these early works.
You then moved to his experimental works from the sixties that include interactive art nightclubs, Oscar nominated short films, and subversive political pieces for TV. The nightclub concept reminded me of a current Columbus attraction called Otherworld. I have not been to Otherworld yet, but friends who have been love it and I feel like it is something Jim would have approved of.
Next came Sesame Street, and this part honestly made me a little emotional. There we found Bert and Ernie, Count von Count, Smiley the Worm and Grover. They had an exhibit where you could build your own “Anything Muppet”, a term they used for blank muppets that could be built and rebuilt to suit a need. They had a video alongside this showing the many faces of the fat blue anything muppet. They showed the development of the show, and talked about how Jim was reticent to do a children’s show because he didn’t want to be pigeonholed.
On a wall behind Grover was the gateway to the next section, The Muppet Show. In this section they had one of the original pitch letters by Jim, scooter and his design notes, many story boards, a replica of the opening number wall, Muppet show idea notes, Puppets of Jim, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson, and so much more. Proceeding on you found the Muppet films, and Baby Piggy and Fozzie from The Muppets Take Manhattan. There are videos of the making of The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppet Movie, more storyboards and film posters.
Immersive Worlds is the next exhibit and the first display is the costuming Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) and David Bowie (Jareth) wore in the Ballroom/ World Falls Down scene in Labyrinth. The detailing on these are stunning, and they are no less impressive seeing them in person. There are more pieces from labyrinth like props from Sarah’s bedroom, set designs and notebooks. Across from this is The Dark Crystal where they have Kira, Jen and Augra as well as notes, drawings by Brian Froud and props.
The Fraggles are next with Red and Wembley as well as videos, notes, and Steve Whitmire’s Headset. Across from them is a wall about what came next. It tells how Jim died in 1990 at the age of 53. That he worked on things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before he passed. They talked about Waldo, the first completely digital interactive puppet, the Storyteller, and the show Dinosaurs.
At the very end was a wall that had a video being played on it. It had clips of Jim throughout the years with audio about how there is a little child in everyone. Then there is just multiple versions of the same clip of Jim wearing a headset and holding Kermit. He looks at the camera and says “Goodbye everyone. Goodbye.”
Sometimes when I am sad, and need a really good cry to empty me out. I will go to youtube and find the video of Jim Henson’s memorial, and specifically to the moment when the puppeteers sing “One Person”. If you need a really good cry I seriously recommend this, but I had a similar feeling hearing Jim saying goodbye in the video. It felt so final, and while I know it is the case I have always felt that Jim was kind of living in all of us who loved and continue to love him.
In the hallway outside the exhibit they had pieces from local artists inspired by Jim Henson. I took pictures of some of my favorites. I bought two things from the gift shop, the book Jim Henson by Brian Jay Jones and a Fraggle.
All in all the exhibit is beautiful and if you have the chance to see it I highly recommend it. The exhibit runs at COSI through September.