Now through May 3, 2009, visitors to the Orange County Regional History Center are in for a treat as the traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, Jim Henson’s Fantastic World showcases original Muppets, sketches, and other creations in a salute to the creative legend Jim Henson.
As part of a sneak preview, curator and historian for The Jim Henson Company, Karen Falk, guided us through the exhibit, discussing Henson’s legacy along the way. Accompanying us were Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson (an Orlando local), as well as Jim’s wife, Jane Henson, both of whom were able to provide a first-hand perspective on why the Muppets, Sesame Street and other Jim Henson creations have stayed popular for so many decades.
The two Hensons are seen here posing with one of the exhibit’s many exciting actual Muppet displays: Mahna Mahna and the Snowths.
As a fan of the Muppets for as long as I can remember being alive, I was shocked at how much new information about them and their creator, Jim Henson, I learned while walking through the exhibit.
While I don’t want or plan to ruin all of the excitement of seeing it all in person for yourself, I do invite you to watch this 14-minute video from our guided tour of the exhibit. It includes many facts about Jim Henson’s life, artwork, and history that you may not get from walking through on your own. It’s our way of bringing you on the sneak preview tour with us.
There is so much to see, read, and marvel at throughout the exhibit including hundreds of original Jim Henson sketches hanging on the walls. You might think seeing Muppets in person would be the highlight of the exhibit.
While that experience is somewhat like meeting a celebrity that you’ve seen on television for year, the Henson sketches are the real stars of the show. Most of the artwork is very basic, like the sketch of Mahna Mahna seen here, but the personality of each character still shines through the simple pen-on-paper drawings.
Upon browsing through the many sketches in the Fantastic World exhibit, it became clear to me that one of the keys to Jim Henson’s creative success was his ability to draw and create numerous characters that were very similar in basic characteristics (big round eyes, lots of hair, etc) and yet each was still incredibly unique, through subtle design differences, color choices or personalities.
The most shocking moment of the whole exhibit for me was seeing Gobo and Cantus from Fraggle Rock. I grew up watching this show and have recently been re-watching episodes on DVD. It never occurred to me that Fraggles were more than just a few inches tall, as they appear to be on the show. In fact, each of the puppets was around three feet tall!
Of course, this makes sense as it wouldn’t be possible to fit a hand inside the puppet to make it come alive if the puppet were as small as a mouse. That just speaks to the effectiveness of the illusion that is created with any production Jim Henson was involved in. When watching a show like Fraggle Rock, the reality of the design process, writing and production never comes through. Only the fantasy world comes across on the screen, as intended.
Beyond Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show, many other Henson productions are showcased throughout the exhibit including Dark Crystal and Sesame Street.
Jim Henson’s Fantastic World is really the ultimate exhibit for any fan of the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggles or Jim Henson himself. Anyone who has grown up counting with The Count or singing along with Kermit should run to Orange County Regional History Center as soon as possible to take it all in.
In addition to Fantastic World, several complimentary exhibits, family funshops, date nights, and a film series are planned throughout the exhibit’s stay in Orlando.
More information can be found at www.historycenter.org or by calling (407) 836-8500.
• Be sure to get your copy of the April/May 2009 issue to read more about Jim Henson’s Fantastic World.
This entry was cross-posted on the distant creations blog.