By Bill Parry
It has taken nearly a half decade to create, but the Museum of the Moving Image will open its permanent Jim Henson Exhibition Saturday, July 22, in the museum’s first gallery dedicated to a single artist.
Visitors will be able to explore Henson’s groundbreaking work for film and television, and his transformative impact on popular culture, with nearly 300 objects on view. The exhibit will feature 47 of his world famous muppets, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, The Swedish Chef, Waldorf and Statler, Elmo and, of course, Big Bird.
“This moment is the result of the tireless work of our staff and collaborators, generous support from the city of New York, especially our representatives from Queens, the family of Jim Henson, and the expertise and selflessness of the many talented artists who worked with Jim,” said Museum of the Moving Image Executive Director Carl Goodman. “We are also grateful for the support from all of our donors, including major foundations and over 2,000 individuals who supported us via Kickstarter.”
The new gallery space, located at 36-01 35th Ave. in Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District, will also contain character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs and iconic costumes from “Sesame Street,” “The Muppet Show” and “Fraggle Rock,” revealing how Henson and his team of builders, performers and writers brought the productions to life.
“It’s a very big project,” said Barbara Miller, the Henson exhibit curator, after the Henson family donated many of the puppets and artifacts to the city in 2013. “It is the most significant collection the museum has ever acquired. The totality of his work is incredible.”
The Jim Henson Exhibition is organized in close collaboration with the Henson family, The Jim Henson Company, and the Jim Henson Legacy, and in close cooperation with Sesame Workshop and The Muppets Studio. Craig Shemin was a writer for the Henson Company for 14 years and is now president of the non-profit Jim Henson Legacy, which makes sure Henson’s name stays connected to his great works.
Henson died of pneumonia in 1990, at the age of 53. His wife Jane died in 2013.
“It was always Jane Henson’s wish that these puppets would be seen by the public,” Shemin said. “It was a long, difficult and complicated road, with so many different entities involved, but everyone wanted this to happen and the museum did a wonderful job coordinating this.”
Shemin said the new gallery was created using old office space at the Museum of Moving Image, and would not take away space from any of the other exhibitions. The city allocated $2.75 million to build the new gallery on the second floor to house the permanent exhibit.
“From ‘The Muppet Show’ to ‘Sesame Street,’ the work of Jim Henson touched the hearts of millions across our globe,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “The volume and originality of Jim Henson’s work is truly astounding, and I’m proud to have secured funding for a permanent exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image so that hundreds of his personal artifacts, including puppets, storyboards, and sketches, can find a permanent home in Western Queens. For generations to come, this exhibit will tell the story of his work and inspire all who visit.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr