Report: Jim and Jane Henson Exhibit in Greenwich, CT

Published: July 7, 2017
Categories: Feature, Reports

When you think of it, now is actually a really good time for Jim Henson-themed museum exhibits. We’re just weeks away from The Jim Henson Exhibition opening its doors at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. The exhibition’s touring counterpart, Imagination Unlimited, is going strong at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta has had its permanent exhibit open for nearly two years so far. The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, DC has made Muppets and other Henson-related memorabilia part of its rotating display for nearly as long. These have all been exhibits with big, flashy presentations, and they’ve captivated Muppet fans across the country. But if you’re interested in a more intimate presentation with a more specific scope, Jim and Jane Henson: Creative Work, Creative Play at the Greenwich Historical Society in Cos Cob, Connecticut is worth the visit.

The first thing you’ll notice about the exhibit is that it’s rather small. The Society’s Storehouse Gallery only consists of three rooms, but they’ve managed to pack it full of puppets, original character sketches, and other memorabilia. The small physical size of the exhibit does allow for one strength: it allows a more particular focus rather than the entire life and times of Jim Henson, as most exhibits about him feature. Specifically, the exhibit focuses mostly on Henson’s work and family from 1964 to 1971, when the Hensons lived in the neighboring town of Greenwich.

Five puppets are on display, including a Kermit the Frog puppet from 1963 and a Robin puppet used in the making of The Frog Prince.

Also including are a number of original art pieces by Jim are on display, offering up a view of Henson beyond the world of puppetry. Most noticeably, the original silkscreens of Hilarity, Melancholy, and Conceit are on display, reproductions of which were recently offered to high-level donors to Center for Puppetry Arts and MoMI.

Naturally, you can’t talk about that period of time without mentioning the genesis of Sesame Street, which takes up the back half of the exhibit. A poser versions of Grover and Oscar the Grouch are on display.

It was a nice surprise to see Lefty the Salesman. (Complete with an “O!” Sadly, there are no O’s in the gift shop, which might have made for a fun souvenir.)

Fans of Sesame’s early years will be particularly interested in original concept art for Big Bird and the Amazing Mumford. (And sadly, there’s no café, so no A-La Peanut Butter sandwiches.)

Merchandising has its own fair share of display space, including original art by Mike Smollin for the 1972 book The Amazing Mumford and His Amazing Subtraction Trick and Jack Davis for The Sesame Street Calendar 1972. (Specifically, it’s from April, which I know about thanks to our handy series on Sesame calendars!) Vintage clips from Jim’s short films and early Sesame Street work compliment the work.

But perhaps the most interesting thing to me was the room dedicated to Jane Henson and her personal journey as an artist. Fans have seen precious little about Jane’s creative work, with most of it being focused on her work with Jim, but her art in this exhibit shows that she was a talented artist in her own right. Original paintings, sculptures, and illustrations show off Jane’s incredible range and spirited imagination. I’d even argue that Jane’s work just on its own is worth the trip to Cos Cob just for fans to get to understand Jane a little better.

For instance, before hearing about this exhibit, I had no idea that Jane had helped to found The Mead School, an arts-focused grade school in the area, and that four of the Henson children were graduates of the school. Some of their work can be seen in the exhibit, making a celebration of the entire Henson family.

In addition, the dollhouse Jim built for his daughters (and would later be used in early Sesame segments) is on display, showing the level of style, detail, and craftsmanship he’s known for.

All in all, despite its size, this exhibit is jam-packed with stuff die-hard Henson fans will enjoy. Its smaller scope allows for perhaps a deeper look at Jim Henson in a period of his life full of experimentation and the groundwork that would lead him to become the icon we know and love. It also shows off the full Henson family, featuring their own creative work and family life that has been so fascinating to Muppet fans. While more casual fans may want to go to the broader exhibits across the country, I’m guessing most of you reading this love anything and everything related to Jim Henson. This exhibit is for you. You may even learn things about the Hensons you’ve never heard before.

The exhibit runs now through October 8th. Hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 12-4 PM. Admission is $10 (and $8 for students and seniors), and includes a tour the neighboring Bush-Holley House. Admission is free the first Wednesday of the month. (That’s August 2nd, September 6th, and October 4th, for those of you still using a 1972 Sesame Street calendar). More information can be found at the Greenwich Historical Society’s website.

Click here to buy an ‘O’ in the gift shop on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matthew Soberman –


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