Today’s article was written by our Atlanta correspondent Barry Lee.  Thanks for all your hard work, Barry!

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On the morning of Saturday, November 14th I had the great pleasure to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new “Worlds of Puppetry” exhibition which included a new Jim Henson Gallery at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a very special day for me, as I was about to witness a collection of Jim’s entire life and career.

I arrived early, and my head was immediately spinning because I recognized so many people. As I walked in, I immediately spotted Bonnie Erickson, which caused me to grab my photographer Dylan and whisper “She designed the original Miss Piggy!” The more I progressed into the room I spotted Brian Henson, Heather Henson, Cheryl Henson, Fran Brill, Craig Shemin, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Pam Arciero, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, and Steve Whitmire. To be honest, it was overwhelming to see so many people who were and still are a part of Jim Henson’s legacy all in one room together. You could truly feel the love and Jim’s spirit. I realized I was witnessing a rare thing.

My friend Dylan is a very casual fan of Jim’s work, so I was excited to educate him. Before Dylan and I sat down I decided to just say “hi” to Steve Whitmire whom I had previously met several years back at the Center in 2009 and then again briefly at DragonCon this year. As I walked up, he immediately looked at me and said “Barry! So glad to see you again!” He greeted me with a warm handshake and we chatted bit about the new show. It was great to see him again. He talked about how much he loved filming the episode “Going, Going, Gonzo.” Dylan and I sat down on the second row and soon after Whitmire came up to us for a “favor” that he may need to sit in my seat to which I said sure but then he quickly ended up getting the folks at the Center two seats NEXT to us for him and his wife. Once he sat down leaned over to me and he said, “You know, I gotta bring out the special guest.” So basically I am sitting there now at the ribbon cutting seeing Steve and this bag knowing at any moment Kermit would appear.

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Cheryl Henson went out to introduce the family and Kermit to cut the ribbon, after which the Henson family went inside along with Steve. The crowd soon followed. It was surreal to be walking through this exhibition with the people who had their hand (literally) in these productions that were represented. I’d see Muppet builders IN the actual Muppet Workshop part of the exhibition just discussing to friends about the certain bits & pieces on display. I’d pass by Fran Brill looking at one of her characters “Little Bird.” It was a pretty neat experience to have alongside people who really put their heart into creating these worlds.

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The exhibition is chronological, it begins with Sam & Friends and showcases one of Jim’s earlier puppet’s Omar.

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We then of course have Rowlf the Dog, featuring a puppet they had from the 60’s on display.

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After you pass Rowlf, you enter a replica of Jim Henson’s office. I loved this part of the exhibition, as it was filled with so much detail. As an artist myself, I love seeing other people’s work spaces. They even had the stained glass window of Ernie and Bert that lived in Jim’s office.

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There was a wall detailing Jim’s work outside of puppetry including his pitch for his proposed nightclub “Cyclia” and short film Time Piece.

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As you exit Jim’s office area, you arrive in a replica of the Muppet Workshop, which had some rare puppets on display as well, starting with Sopwith the Camel (!!!) and the Storyteller’s dog.  This was one of the first surprises in this exhibit to me, knowing how old some of these characters were and how rarely used they’d been over the years.

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In the Workshop part of the exhibit, you can open certain drawers which reveal Muppet eyes, hands, and other various parts.

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Elsewhere in the Workshop, we’re treated to a feast for the eyes, including one of the “Java” puppets, an Anything Pumpkin Muppet, and King Goshposh (again, in really great shape). I was in awe of the restorations. There were so many details in this part that I know I am missing a lot and it begs for repeat viewings.

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After you whirl out of the workshop you’re greeted by Bert & Ernie, full bodied, who are segueing you into the Sesame Street portion of the museum, which includes Big Bird, Little Bird, Grover, Oscar, Elmo, Sherlock Hemlock, Clementine, Fred the Wonder Horse and Roosevelt Franklin.

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The Sesame portion leads you to a mock television studio where you can see how Muppeteers perform, with a raised set that kind of looks similar to Bert and Ernie’s apartment.

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This room also had some characters from The Muppet Musicians of Bremen and Taminella from The Frog Prince, which is such a beautiful puppet to see up close!

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From the mock television studio, you enter the space dedicated to The Muppet Show and the Muppet films. Kermit is front and center in his little director’s chair, as well as Piggy, Scooter, Robin, Camilla, and Fozzie Bear.

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Amazingly, the Deadly Sins from The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence pilot are still around. I was amazed by the detail of these characters and again, they were in really good shape. It’s crazy to think the amount of time put into restoring these Muppets who only appeared in one or two productions.

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Each part of the exhibitions feature many clips from the various productions. The exhibit continues with the worlds of Jim Henson including Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal.

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Each part of Jim’s career is touched upon nicely and you get a good sense of the diversity of Henson’s portfolio. You end the exhibition with some characters from The Jim Henson Hour, including Dog City‘s Bugsy Them, who may have been the last original character performed by Jim.

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As you exit the space you are left with a beautiful stain glass window of Kermit singing “Rainbow Connection.”

The day was all in all amazing and it was again a great experience to see these pieces up close with the people who had a part in creating them. You can check out the exhibition now in Atlanta, Georgia. If you like the Muppets (which, since you’re here, I assume you do), I recommend the trip.  It’s an extremely well done exhibition and I know for sure I’ll be going be back there (someday).

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Many thanks to photographer Dylan Fagan for all the great images found in this article!

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by Barry Lee

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