Jim Henson Exhibit
Jim Henson’s work feels almost elemental to our world. As though, if it were to have never existed, it would be like waking up to notice the entire color green had disappeared. His optimism–dreamlike, kaleidoscopic, explosive–has had such a significant creative influence on our lives it feels vital to them.
Holding a magnifying glass at all the joy to be found; at all of the ridiculous, beautiful commonalities we share–his artistry engaged with the world so deeply. Transforming the ordinary into something beyond it. From early beginnings in local television in Maryland, to Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal and more–what Henson created and influenced over his 40 year career has shaped in small ways who we all are.
That’s why when a crowd of characters–feathered, felted, and fanged–were looking for their forever home, one knock on the door of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York was all it took to find it. With over 400 puppets, costumes, props and other objects donated by the estate of Jim Henson (much of the puppeteer’s archive)–immediately, the museum decided to build a space fit for a frog, a pig, a goblin king, and a friendly vampire obsessed with counting. For everyone and everything–so beloved and remembered by millions–that found a home in Henson’s imaginative universe.
For over three years, COLLINS worked closely with the Museum of the Moving Image’s curation and design teams, as well as the Jim Henson family. Our team collaborated on all aspects of the exhibition including the design of the gallery environment, the design system, storytelling for the layout of the show, interactive technologies and installations in the gallery, and external marketing and communications.
With original artifacts ranging from puppets, film clips, projections, drawings, set models, costumes, robotics, and more–we organized the story of Henson’s career into six distinct key chapters, in collaboration with the Senior Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Barbara Miller. Our team designed faceted architecture and a spatial design system referencing the geometries of the museum–hinting at the boundless energy of Henson’s team itself. Much like how Kermit the Frog tries to hold The Muppet Show together before things fly off the rails, our system marries chaos with control; constant motion with a ringmaster’s sense of showmanship.
We started by sketching, but quickly moved into 3D models and rendering, before building full-scale prototypes of the furniture in our workspaces at COLLINS to get a sense of size, proportion, accessibility, and operability. Once we laid out the show in the 3D models, we worked closely with the Deputy Director for Operations, Exhibitions, and Design, Wendell Walker, from the museum’s design team to construct the space.
Emphasizing the creative community Henson fostered and worked alongside throughout his career, our goal was to give visitors a sense of what it was like to be a collaborator in Henson’s studio; developing interactive stations that enabled guests to learn both character design and puppeteering.
Henson said yes to life. Yes to aliveness of all kinds–love, magic, whimsy, mischief. As described by John Stark in People Magazine, (July 17, 1989), Henson had an imagination that flowed “like lava from a psychedelic volcano”. His craft reinvented what children’s television could be, undoubtedly precursed CGI, and ceaselessly pushed popular culture forward.
We’re honored to have partnered with the Museum of the Moving Image to create a destination where visitors can return again and again, and to have ever had such unprecedented access to Henson and his team’s inventions.
From the recent Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance that celebrates the puppetry he pioneered, to programs that kids still grow up with today like Sesame Street–Henson’s mark on our world is indelible.
His stories and characters live on now, as they always will–and for that, we are still, and forever will be, in awe.
- Clay Kippen
- Gabe Benzur
- Brett Renfer
- Caroline Bagley
- Thorbjorn Gudnason
- Thomas Wilder
- Jules Tardy
- Antonia Lazar
- Brian Collins
- Museum of the Moving Image Team
- Barbara Miller
- Wendell Walker
- Angel Ortiz
- Carl Goodman