Categorized | Family, Kids, Living, People

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at the Michener

By AML Publisher
Photos courtesy of Belle Vie Photography

Two of Sesame Street's most famous characters: Bert (played by Frank Oz) and Ernie (played by Henson)

Two of Sesame Street's most famous characters: Bert (played by Frank Oz) and Ernie (played by Henson)

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World is just that-fantastic. And for lovers of America’s most well known puppeteer, the exhibition at Doylestown’s Michener Museum is a must-see for families across the Delaware Valley. Fantastic World wraps up its fall run this coming holiday weekend.

The exhibit offers a rare peek into the imagination and creative genius of this multitalented innovator and creator of Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, and other beloved characters. Henson, who passed away from pneumonia at the age of 53 in 1990, has been on the national media forefront lately with this month’s fortieth celebration of Sesame Place.

The exhibit features 100 original artworks, including drawings, cartoons and storyboards that illustrate Henson’s talent as a storyteller and visionary. Among the variety of exhibition objects are puppets and television and movie props, photographs of Henson and his collaborators at work and original video productions, including excerpts from Henson’s early career and experimental films. From Dark Crystal to Sesame Street, the Michener’s museum shop is filled with rare collectible figurines, lunch boxes, comic books, CD’s, DVD’s, books and more-all representing the marvelous creatures from the imagination of Jim Henson.

“All cultures across the world have some sort of puppets. Jim Henson was really a very brilliant man, and he was also a very astute businessman so he was able to translate this enormous amount of talent and creativity into a very successful business,” explained exhibit docent Jean Stevens.

“All cultures across the world have some sort of puppets. Jim Henson was really a very brilliant man, and he was also a very astute businessman so he was able to translate this enormous amount of talent and creativity into a very successful business,” explained exhibit docent Jean Stevens.

Two of the most famous of Henson’s creative cast of characters which visitors will delight in seeing is, of course, the dynamic duo of Bert and Ernie. Ernie, the constant pudgy prankster, was the contrast to the slim, straight shooting Bern. “The whole dynamic of Bert and Ernie is very purposeful. When Henson was making Bert, one of Henson’s assistants insisted that Bert needed eyebrows to complete his look and stern expression. There are such subtle parts of Henson’s creative genius that are fascinating to learn about for our visitors,” explained exhibit docent Jean Stevens. Stevens, a Doylestown native, is a retired librarian and diehard Henson admirer.

Henson’s early childhood in rural Mississippi shaped his career and was where, later in life, he recalled falling in love with nature. A picture of Henson as a young boy in his backyard shows him mocking a snake charmer. While Henson was in high school in Maryland, he saw an ad in a local newspaper for a puppeteer. After picking up a book at the library on puppet making, he grabbed his mother’s old spring bright green coat out of the closet and created the first version of Kermit the Frog. The version of Kermit at The Michener is from the ‘70s and is not the original. “Jim had a friend as a fifth grader in Mississippi named T. Kermit Scott and that is where the inspiration for the name of the most famous Kermit came from. Kermit did not originally have a collar around his neck; it was later added to hide the jointing of the neck and the body. And, his feet were later webbed. Jim Henson often referred to Kermit as his alter ego, explaining the famous frog was able to say things he could not,” explained Stevens.

Snowths & Mahna Mahna.  Considered a precursor to Henson’s Fraggle Rock

Snowths & Mahna Mahna
Considered a precursor to Henson’s Fraggle Rock

The touring exhibit which wraps up Sunday November 29th at The Michener is part of a dozen city national tour. It includes an interactive educational area for children to sketch, develop storyboards and a mock theater with puppets for visitors to create their own plays. “This exhibit appeals to everyone. It’s nostalgic for moms and dads and it is playful and educational for children. Jim Henson really wanted to change the world, and I think he did just that. One of my favorite famous sayings from Henson is that he said ‘There are no rules and those are the rules.’”

The Michener Museum is located at 318 Pine Street in Doylestown, PA. For full exhibit details and hours of operation, call 215-340-9800.

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