Just Opened: The Jim Henson Exhibition

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Helloo everybody!!!!! Big news at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The Jim Henson Exhibition, the long-awaited, much-anticipated show dedicated to the master puppeteer has finally opened! (Can you tell we’re excited?) We hopped right over to check it out — read on for our report!

photo: The Jim Henson Company

The Definitive Henson Exhibit & Experience
Part of what makes this exhibit so special is its origin. In 2013, Jim Henson’s family donated a collection of nearly 500 objects from the artist’s life and work over several decades. Everything from puppets to notebooks to storyboards, as well as materials from Henson’s youth and early ventures were made available.

Additionally, this show includes sketches, photographs, scripts and other 2-D artifacts on loan from The Jim Henson Company Archive, and archival video and photographic material was provided by The Jim Henson Company, Sesame Workshop and The Muppets Studio. Essentially, anyone and everyone who you’d want to be involved, was, which also means that it’s a show Henson himself would approve of.

Puppets, Muppets & Lots More
Yes! Visitors do get to see many of the iconic Muppets from Henson’s creations. (Sesame Street‘s Kermit, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Elmo, Prairie Dawn all make appearances, and stars of The Muppet Show and movies, such as Miss Piggy, Gonzo, The Swedish Chef— with hands cast from puppeteer Frank Oz’s own — and those cantankerous guys in the balcony are also on view.)

But this show spotlights the entirety of Henson’s life and work, with sections dedicated to the early years of his career, even prior to his interest in puppetry. (An original sign for a poster business he ran in college is part of the exhibit.) Many visitors will be surprised to learn that prior to getting seriously involved in children’s television, Henson and his collaborator and wife Jane primarily made television commercials for companies. Clips of these spots and others — which incorporate the recognizable Henson sensibility later seen on PBS and beyond — are on view, as are some of the many appearances the Muppets made on evening television series such as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Jimmy Dean Show, which featured the first Muppet, dog Rowlf.

Later Works — and Bowie’s Costume
Fans of Henson’s projects beyond the Muppets and the Street won’t be disappointed, either. Additional sections of the show feature his the HBO series Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and feature film Labyrinth, with puppets, behind-the-scenes clips, and costumes, including David Bowie’s from the 1986 maze-movie.

Try Your Hand
While visitors can’t touch the actual Muppets, several interactive stations let them get up close and personal with puppets. At one, people can choose a puppet and attempt to perform a song a la the pros on Sesame Street and beyond. (You get a practice run, and then it’s taped so you can see how you did. Harder than it looks!)

At another, you can use assorted eyes, noses, hair and more to design a “Fat Blue Anything Puppet”, one of the generic forms repeatedly used on Sesame Street.

photo: Museum of the Moving Image

Programming for Families
While this is not a show exclusively for kids or families (you may enjoy it as much, if not more than your children, given the nostalgia factor), the Museum will be running ongoing events, activities and screenings related to the show.

Programming includes make-your-own puppets workshops, screenings of Henson’s films, and more. Check the museum’s website for the latest offerings.

The Jim Henson Exhibit
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave.
Online: movingimage.us

What’s your family’s favorite Henson work? Tell us in the comments! 

— Mimi O’Connor