Sesame Street premiered in 1969. That means just about everyone 45 or younger has had the opportunity to make a magical Muppet connection.
That’s the idea behind Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, a new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and The Jim Henson Legacy that offers a rare peek into Henson’s creative genius.
It opens Saturday at the Mississippi Museum of Art and runs through March 14.
Henson, a Mississippi Delta native, created the diverse characters to educate and entertain.
Arthur Novell, executive director of The Jim Henson Legacy, said the exhibit appeals to multiple generations.
“A 7-year-old and his grandmother are both interested, which is really quite wonderful,” Novell said. “Jim’s popularity grows and grows. The other venues have been breaking attendance records. Merchandise is flying off the shelves.”
The exhibit features 100 original artworks, including drawings, cartoons, storyboards, puppets, props, photographs and video.
Henson (1936-1990) — an artist, puppeteer, film director and producer — spent his early years in the Mississippi Delta exploring Deer Creek around Leland before creating his first televised puppet show, Sam and Friends.
His work evolved into The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, and led to characters created for The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
His work is now viewed in more than 100 countries.
Among the many characters Henson created, fan favorites include Statler and Waldorf, Sam the Eagle, Cookie Monster, the Swedish Chef, Beaker and, of course, Kermit the Frog.
Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, said the event has mass appeal.
“Henson’s ability to take his visual ideas and create worlds of characters, stories, movies, and songs that send positive messages to people across the world is unparalleled, and his influence continues today,” she said. “We hope that people will have a better understanding of the power of visual thinking that shaped his career, but also of the unique environment in Mississippi that helped to form his creative vision.
The exhibit is organized by The Jim Henson Legacy and SITES, in cooperation with the Henson Family; The Jim Henson Co.; The Muppets Studio LLC; and Sesame Workshop.
It’s made possible by The Biography Channel with additional support from The Jane Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson.
The tour is sponsored locally by Donna and Jim Barksdale, the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
–LaReeca Rucker, Clarion-Ledger