When famed puppeteer Jim Henson died suddenly in 1990, his imagination, creativity and influence did not die with him.
Almost 30 years later, Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, a huge family of Muppets and characters from Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and The Dark Crystal are still with us.
Their stories will be told in an upcoming exhibit at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience at Meridian. The Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited exhibit, which opens Saturday, January 12, explores Henson’s life and the impact his designs continue to have on popular culture.
The traveling exhibit, which will run until May 4, 2019, tells the story of how Henson’s early film and television work became a global phenomenon. It also gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the Leland native and his team of puppeteers, writers, and designers created their unique cast of characters.
The exhibit features a range of artifacts from Henson’s career, including over 20 original puppets, character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, film and television clips, behind-the-scenes footage, costumes and interactive experiences that allow visitors to try their hand. puppetry in front of the camera and the design of a puppet character.
Go beyond the surface
Henson’s extensive work continues to inspire people for many reasons, said Cheryl Henson, his daughter and chair of the Jim Henson Foundation Board of Trustees.
“I think the most important thing is fun,” she said in a recent phone interview. “My dad really tapped into a sense of play that was universal. People learn through play; they are entertained by play. Much of his work was creative in a very playful way.
“Plus, there’s a sense of nostalgia,” she added, noting that Sesame Street will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019. “For the fun they felt as kids and having experiences these characters for the first time. It draws on the memories of their own childhood. For many people, the opportunity to share what they loved in childhood with their children or grandchildren, it is also a reason to go there.
But deeper than that, Henson said, the exhibit “goes beyond the surface, taking a really deep look at the creative process.”
“No matter how well you think you know Jim Henson and his work, you’re going to learn something new from this exhibit,” she said. “Whether it’s exploring the creative influences on his life; it really goes into his early work, his fascination with television and how he learned puppetry, how he explored technology. It really touches on a lot of aspects…how he was able to build what he was able to actually do.
“Everyone Knows Henson”
Mark Tullos, executive director of The Max, said plans to bring the exhibit to Meridian began about a year ago as the museum prepared to open. The exhibition was first presented at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in May 2017, before running from June to September 2018 in Los Angeles.
“We knew we were looking for something that was a major exhibit to show off our changing exhibition space,” Tullos said. “Every year or two we hope to host a major traveling exhibit that brings people from the area, from Dallas or Atlanta, or Nashville. It’s that type of show, because we’re the only venue in the South -East.
“To me, it seemed like a heavenly marriage for our museum and this exhibit,” Tullos added. “Everyone knows Henson.”
Tullos hopes the timing of the exhibit will be ideal for Mississippi educators looking for an interesting and engaging field trip for their students.
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“It’s inspiring for young people to come and see something like this. It really gives them an idea of what they might be capable of, if they work hard enough at it. Tulos said.
Cheryl Henson, who will take part in a panel discussion on her father’s work at MSU Riley Center on Jan. 12, agrees.
“Every school kid in Mississippi should go,” she laughed. “People these days want to connect with positive feelings. There’s so much negativity around, and here’s an exposition that’s really, really good. And it’s good, but it’s not sweet. It’s all real .