New York Diary: The Jim Henson Exhibition at Museum of the Moving Image

The Jim Henson Exhibition at Museum of Moving Image is a permanent exhibition dedicated to him, his work and his influence on pop culture. This is a must see exhibition for all Jim Henson fans. 

The Jim Henson Exhibition features a broad range of objects from throughout his remarkable career. It reveals how Henson and his team of builders, performers, and writers brought to life the enduringly popular worlds of The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, Sesame StreetFraggle RockThe Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. It also includes material from Henson’s experimental film projects and his early work, presenting him as a restlessly creative performer, filmmaker, and technical innovator. 

Among the nearly 300 objects on view are 47 puppets—including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, The Swedish Chef, Statler, Waldorf, Big Bird, Elmo, Cantus Fraggle, a Skeksis, and other popular favorites—character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, and costumes. Film and television clips and behind-the-scenes footage are presented on monitors and projections throughout. Interactive experiences allow visitors to try their hand at puppeteering on screen and designing a puppet character. 

Many of the objects featured in The Jim Henson Exhibition are drawn from a major donation by Jim Henson’s family to the Museum’s permanent collection. This donation of nearly 500 artifacts includes historic puppets, costumes, production design material, and licensed merchandise.    

I didn't take many photos from the exhibition, but I found this video, which gives you a tour of it and shows you what's on display.  

The Jim Henson Exhibition is organized into the following sections:

Threshold immerses visitors in a flood of images from Jim Henson’s diverse body of work as they enter the exhibition. On a set of monitors that forms a large, seamless canvas, brief clips featuring iconic puppet characters and moments from Henson’s lesser-known works signal that the exhibition will offer familiar favorites and surprising revelations. Another aspect of the entry experience is a “wall” of twelve puppets just past the wall of screens.

Introducing Jim Henson is a short section that offers biographical background about Henson, and looks at his influences and development as a visual artist and performer. Highlights include:

  • Comics created by Henson as a young teenager
  • Kermit the Frog puppet and the microphone headband that Henson used when he puppeteered
  • 1940s television showing clips of comedian Ernie Kovacs and Kukla, Fran and Ollie

Early Works looks at Henson’s first productions for television and film in the 1950s and 60s, in which his unbridled imagination, wit, and capacity for creative innovation were established. Highlights include:

  • The “Perform a Puppet on Screen” interactive, which gives visitors an opportunity to watch themselves perform a puppet on a television monitor
  • Yorick puppet from Henson’s first television series, Sam and Friends (1955-1961)
  • Clips and puppets from Henson’s television commercials in the 1950s and 1960s
  • Design sketches, scripts, clips, and a puppet for Rowlf, the first Muppet “star”

Experiments considers the film, TV commercial, and other projects that Henson worked on in the mid- to late-1960s, a period when he considered himself more of an experimental filmmaker than a puppeteer. Highlights include:

  • Material related to Cyclia, an unrealized immersive nightclub, including film clips projected onto a faceted surface, suggesting the effect Henson intended for the club
  • Notes, storyboard, and clip from Time Piece (1965)
  • Annotated editing script for the documentary Youth 68 (1968) 

Sesame Street explores Henson’s work on the groundbreaking educational series, including the development of new puppet characters, short live-action and animated films, and the explosion of related licensed merchandise. Highlights include:

  • The “Design an Anything Muppet Character” interactive experience, which begins with a short video featuring Henson puppet-builder Rollie Krewson demonstrating how she designs “Anything Muppet” characters for Sesame Street. Visitors select facial features and accessories for an “Anything Muppet” form, and can see what their character looks like on screen
  • Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Prairie Dawn puppets, along with specialized equipment used by puppeteers to perform these characters
  • Storyboard for “counting film” created by Henson for the first season of the series

The Muppets features material from The Muppet Show (1976-1981) and Muppet feature films. Highlights include:

  • Puppets created for two pilots for The Muppet Show on ABC in 1974 and 1975, including The Swedish Chef, Statler, Waldorf, and Zoot
  • Set design material for The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
  • Projection of all 120 episodes of The Muppet Show playing simultaneously
  • Miss Piggy puppet, with costume sketches and development art for her character

Immersive Worlds explores the creative and technical innovations that Henson and his collaborators pioneered during production of the imaginary worlds of Fraggle Rock (1983- 1986), The Dark Crystal (1982), and Labyrinth (1986). Highlights include:

  • “Ritual Master” Skeksis puppet from The Dark Crystal
  • Costumes for Jareth and Sarah from Labyrinth
  • Uncle Travelling Matt, Cantus, and Gobo puppets from Fraggle Rock
  • Concept art and development notes for Fraggle Rock

Looking Ahead is a small section that looks at the television and film projects Henson worked on between 1985 and his death in 1990, including the development of the first digital puppet character. Highlights include:

  • “Waldo” - a radio-controlled remote puppeteering device
  •  Henson’s shooting script for “The Heartless Giant,” an episode of The Storyteller

Legacy is a video installation at the end of The Jim Henson Exhibition. The installation comprises twelve monitors of various sizes showing images and clips of Henson’s characters and collaborators.