Smithsonian Muppets Donated by Creator Jim Henson's Family

Image: Smithsonian Muppets Donated by Creator Jim Henson's Family

Wednesday, 25 Sep 2013 06:26 AM

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The Smithsonian Institution's has its very own Jim Henson Muppet collection, courtesy of Henson's family which on Tuesday donated more than 20 puppets and props to the National Museum of American History.

The donated Muppets will join Kermit, Oscar the Grouch, and early Henson creations that had been previously given to the museum, the Associated Press reported.

The newest donation includes an original version of Miss Piggy and some of her co-stars from "The Muppet Show," including Fozzie Bear, Rowlf the piano-playing dog, Scooter and the Swedish Chef. Puppets from "Sesame Street" joining the museum collection include Bert and Ernie, Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover and Count Von Count, among others.

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Many of the puppets are among the first constructions of the characters.

Smithsonian magazine welcomed Miss Piggy, dressed in a silver evening gown and holding a red rose, with a photo shoot. The museum allowed her to pose with Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" and wearing the real 45-carat Hope Diamond from the National Museum of Natural History.

"She was very well-behaved, considering she wanted to take it home with her," said Bonnie Erickson, who created the Miss Piggy puppet with Henson and now is executive director of the Jim Henson Legacy foundation.

The gift was made on what would have been Henson's 77th birthday and shortly after his wife, Jane Henson, died in April.

Since she was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, Jane Henson spent years planning to find permanent homes for each puppet character, Cheryl Henson said. Other puppets are being donated to the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, and to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

"Many of these puppets have been in boxes for years. They've been tucked away in boxes, and we don't want them to stay in boxes. We want people to see them and to appreciate them," Cheryl Henson said. "There's something about puppets. They're not animated. ... They are actual, physical things."

Miss Piggy will go on display in March 2014 in the Smithsonian's "American Stories" exhibit. The original Kermit and Cookie Monster will go on view in November in a special display case, and a puppetry exhibit in early 2014 will likely feature Bert and Ernie, among others, curators said.

The Hensons have a longtime connection to Washington. Jim and Jane Henson met as students at the nearby University of Maryland and became performing partners before they married. They made early television commercials with their puppets and created a local TV show, "Sam and Friends," which included the first Kermit creation.

The original Kermit, made from an old coat and pingpong balls for eyes, was donated to the Smithsonian in 2010, along with other characters from "Sam and Friends."

The newest donation includes Boober Fraggle, Red Fraggle and Travelling Matt from the 1980s show "Fraggle Rock." The Hensons also donated a 1957 puppet called Wilkins that was made for Wilkins Coffee commercials.

Erickson and others who worked with Henson gathered Tuesday at the museum for a donation ceremony and said the Muppets will have a new life among the relics of history. The puppets were never meant to be made for posterity, Erickson said, but "considering that they're retired, they're looking absolutely wonderful."

Fran Brill, the first woman puppeteer Henson hired for "Sesame Street," who created the characters of Zoe and Prairie Dawn, said Henson had created a puppet family with his many collaborators.

"I'm just looking at all of these characters and thinking this is the puppet family, and yet, I feel like they're all my relatives," she said.

Curator Dwight Blocker Bowers said the puppets represent the creativity of "one of America's great innovators." He said Henson had extended the boundaries of puppetry, using film and television.

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"I love these puppets' eyes. You can't walk near them without making eye contact," Blocker Bowers said. "They're very much like an oil painting. And they have such an innocence."

In addition to his success on "Sesame Street," and "The Muppet Show," Jim Henson was also responsible for several other productions in the 1980s and 1990s, including the TV shows "Fraggle Rock" and "Dinosaurs," and the films "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth."

Related stories:

Jane Henson Dies: Muppets Co-Creator, Jim Henson's Partner Was 78

Muppets Dump Chick-Fil-A to Support Gay Marriage

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