I have no memory of the first time I saw a Muppet, with pretty good reason. Whether it was Sesame Street or Fraggle Rock or even the more adult-targeted Muppet Show, Muppets have always been a part of my life. And not just a passive presence in the background: I love Muppets. I wanted to name my first kitten after Red Fraggle. Mom complained that Red was a girl and the little ginger kitten was not, so I named him after Gobo Fraggle instead. The pun-heavy hamming around of Kermit and Fozzie set the stage for my sense of humor (much to my father’s amusement and my mother’s chagrin, I think).
Naturally, when I stumbled across a listing for a display on Jim Henson’s work at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, I had to go. A friend of mine was kind enough to go with me to make the hefty trek on the MBTA into an area where return buses are long in coming, which made the trip better—I have always found that Muppets are even more when delightful appreciated with a friend.
I think I can die happy now, because I’ve met Kermit (did you know the original Kermit was made out of an old spring coat that belonged the Henson’s mother?), Rowlf, Mahna Mahna (apparently that was his name, not just random scatting), Gobo, and Cantus the Minstrel in person. More or less. They were a little on the quiet side, but I imagine I would be too if I had to spend my day in a glass box… (Wocka, wocka, wocka!)
Most of the display consisted of storyboards and sketches of Henson’s early commercial work that doesn’t receive a lot of attention these days, such as his hilariously “offer you can’t refuse” advertisements for Wilkins Coffee. As you walk in, the first section of the exhibit showcases sketches and posters from Henson’s days in high school drama. Among these was a little pencil sketch of a mobile with a bunch of eyes and mouths, with notes beside it suggesting a bit of kinetic art that creating various expressions as the eyes and mouths rotated.
This little sketch presented a piece of inspiration to fantastic to ignore, so yesterday John and I spent several hours crafting our own little art piece inspired by (but fairly different from) that sketch. It’s hard to explain in words, so…here’s a multimedia treat for you to puzzle at.
It’s just a bit of silliness, but somehow, I like to think Jim Henson would have appreciated that his legacy still inspires people to indulge themselves in a little nonsense now and then.