I've always been drawn to Jim Henson and his work in an almost indescribable way. I don't remember my first words, or my first day of school. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast, but I do recall the first sight of Big Bird on stage of Sesame Street Live at the New Haven Coliseum when I was barely potty-trained.
Something clicked in me at that ripe young age and I have been a fan of everything Muppets ever since. To this day I will watch the opening song to the Muppet Show over and over again to just be able to see the paint strokes and hand-carved quality of the set and see the details that formed what I think to be one of the most brilliant masterpieces of all time. Because it is not just the Muppets that I am oh-so-intrigued with. It is the mind of the late and great Jim Henson that has inspired me to do so many things in my life and has changed me.
The Smithsonian exhibit was a nice, colorful display, that guided you through the life of Jim and his many forms of creative media. From his graphic design (which I was excited to learn about!) to his cartooning to his comic books to his sculptures to commercials to the Muppets we all know and love, I was able to see this evolution, and see the pages in his sketchbook (which, by the way, were full of swirls and doodles in Sharpie and colored pencil). This was the down and dirty stuff....scribbles in faded marker on the back of a menu, covered in coffee stains that laid out ideas for sets and Muppet sketches. I stood before the actual original drawing for the set idea for the Muppet Show and my heart actually skipped a beat.
Then of course there was Kermit (who, little known fact, was originally constructed out of a ping pong ball and one of Jim's mother's old coats). There were some Dark Crystal characters. Ernie. Bert. And Rolph the dog made an appearance. I left there feeling inspired and changed. But I could have used a little more Muppet viewing. I wanted to stare at more of these creatures of wonder for hours and see the handiwork, the glue drips, the recycled materials and the stitches that they were made of.
So I randomly struck up conversation with the lady at the front desk (who, was nice enough to offer me the student discount, despite me not having any proof of the sort). She casually mentioned that there was a permanent display of the Muppets up the street at the Center for Puppetry Arts, a museum of only puppets, that was actually established with the help of Jim Henson.
Whaaa? I had no idea. I ran out the door hopped in Janis (my oh-so-reliable vehicle, who loves the warm weather!) as quickly as possible. If there were Muppets to be seen and they were in that town, I was not wasting time here.
The sun was shining and I felt as if I was heading down the yellow brick road. (Sidenote: I actually lost the top of my sunroof leaving the parking garage. Somehow I managed to make the clearance on the way in, but the incline on the way out snapped off the top to my sunroof and it flew off the back, leaving a gaping hole in my roof. A random jogger was passing by, saw this happen and handed me the sunroof. I know this should have phased me more than it did, but the whole transaction in my overly excited state reminded me for no reason at all of that scene in Muppets Take Manhattan, when Gregory Hines has his skates taken by Miss Piggy in the park. I know...they're not even related. But if you haven't seen it, you should at least You Tube that right away.)
Sunroofless, I found my way to the Puppet Museum (thankfully, I had a nice collection of colored duct tape that my friend Rox gave me for Christmas, so I did some quick repair on Janis), and there, amidst a flock of first graders on a field trip, and for a ridiculously discounted price (I think the front desk dude saw a sense of urgency in my eyes), I found it.
Ahhhhhh...Muppets (the signs said no photography, but if you drove 19 hours to see this, I think you would take pictures too...enjoy!) Jaw dropped, heart beating, I stood before these creatures and took it all in. I ate lunch out of the vending machine so that I could spend more time there, seeing how they were made, and how Jim's brilliant ideas were realized, from a napkin drawing to life-like puppets that have made their way into my heart. The Doozers. The Fraggles. Big Bird. Pigs in Space. The door knockers from the Labyrinth. The word amazing does not do this man's work any justice. He was pure genius.
Needless to say, I took away a lot from my day of Muppets and learning about Jim Henson. Most importantly I learned that it's important to just put your ideas out there, and try to acknowledge but excuse the fear (that I have come to know in creating) of rejection or the need to perfect everything before it is seen. While I am sure that there were many raised eyebrows at the sight of Jim's zany creations and ideas that began to surface in the 60's, he believed in himself and knew he had a worthwhile story to tell. And for the opportunity to learn his story, I am forever grateful.