Thursday, November 25, 2010
Jim Henson's Fantastic World
On a day meant for giving thanks, I have a lot of people in my life to give thanks for. One of those people, unfortunately no longer with us in person, is Jim Henson. There are few people that have had a greater influence on my art and my life than Mr. Henson did. From his work ethic, to his playful experimentation, to his thorough goodness and kindness, he has always been someone I've looked up to. So I couldn't have been happier to be surprised by someone else I'm thankful for (my wife, Emily), with a belated birthday present trip to the Museum of Science and Industry's exhibit of Jim Henson's work.
If you'll be in Chicago for any reason before January 23rd, you owe yourself a walk through this collection.
I can't really do the exhibit justice, but I can say it was easily one of the greatest displays I've ever seen. If you grew up in my generation, there were any number of puppets, muppets, and drawings that made you smile in recognition. And the small children running around shouting out the characters' names and renewing the joy that Henson brought to the world had me leaving the place feeling a renewed faith in life.
There were a great deal of facts that I hadn't known about Henson, like his start as a cartoonist...
or the fact that he started and ran a poster shop in college. In fact he seems to have gone through the careers of almost all of my friends (cartoonists, filmmakers, poster artists, etc.), all in one lifetime. And he wasn't too shabby at any of them.
One of my favorite bits in the exhibit was a wall where visitors could make their own arrangements of felt shapes, eyes, clothes, and accessories to form their own two-dimensional muppet. This one was left by an unknown author and I felt compelled to preserve it.
This floored me, as it would anyone who grew up with Sesame Street. The original sketch of Bert and Ernie (which you can see again on the desk as Bert is being sculpted).
Above the printers in my studio, I have a picture of the puppeteer who inhabits Big Bird. He's only got on the bottom half of the costume, the citrus orange tree trunk legs, and he's just sort of dancing, hamming it up for the photographer. The photograph is from some issue of the New Yorker, I don't recall the issue or the date.
I don't know why the photograph was taken or have any sort of context for it, but I've held on to it, as it seems a perfect illustration of Henson's world. The old puppeteer is at work, but he is smiling and dancing, before he puts on the rest of his bright, improbable costume to make another generation run around, screaming its collective head off, singing songs taught by weird, furry, loving animals and monsters.
Thanks again, Jim. We love you.