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Museums: Explore Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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See some of your favorite puppet characters, and how they were created, in an exhibit that offers something for the whole family

Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Bert and Ernie, and many more are coming to Chicago to provide a rare, colorful, fun-for-all-ages look into the imagination of Jim Henson—the creator of these innovative characters who have entertained adults and children alike for generations.

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, an exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and The Jim Henson Legacy, opens on Sept. 24—what would be Henson’s 74th birthday—with a birthday-themed opening event and runs through Jan. 23, 2011.  

Documenting Henson’s process of “visual thinking, ” guests will experience more than 130 original artworks created by Henson himself, including drawings, cartoons, storyboards, television and movie props, photographs of Henson and his collaborators at work, original video productions and experimental films from his early career. Also showcased are some of his beloved puppets including Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, Bert and Ernie, puppets from the 1982 film The Dark Crystal, and Cantus and Gobo from the award-winning television series Fraggle Rock.

As a treat for guests, Miss Piggy from Muppets Take Manhattan will make a special debut, added to the exhibit for the Chicago stop only!  Also, offered exclusively at MSI, younger guests will love to express their inventiveness through a series of fun and original hands-on activities developed just for MSI guests, including:

Puppet Theater—Create, direct and stage your own puppet show! Using a backdrop of either a science lab or spaceship, choose from a selection of puppets and props, and view your production on a nearby TV screen simultaneously as you improvise your own story.

Foley Stage—Learn the science behind sound effects and create your own soundtrack to a clip from The Muppet Movie. Using a variety of objects, recreate the thuds, swishes and other noisy clatter from the movie snippet staring your favorite Henson characters. 

Create-a-Character—On a large felt wall, choose from a fun selection of features—eyes, ears, mouths, noses, clothing, etc.—to see how much character you can infuse into your personalized character.

Storyboarding—Try your hand at creating your own story for your character, documenting the action through a series of storyboards.

From the very beginning, Henson expressed his ideas with incredible bursts of invention, through a variety of visual forms, clever dialogue, songs, comic bits and animation.  His work reveals a sophisticated thought-process, evident in the decades-long metamorphosis of a small group of captivating characters from simple doodles, to cartoons, to puppets, to films. What began as a one-man enterprise eventually grew into an international phenomenon: The simple hand puppets Henson created for his first television show, Sam and Friends, evolved into increasingly more sophisticated characters—from the Muppets of The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock fame to the larger-than-life fantasy creatures of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Guests to the exhibit will discover rare photos and drawings first-hand, such as a photo of Henson with Kermit the Frog in 1978 on the set of The Muppet Movie, or a developing free-hand sketch of the Mahna Mahna character.

“The imagination and creativity of Jim Henson is so inspirational, ” said Anne Rashford, Museum of Science and Industry director of temporary exhibits. “This exhibition provides the chance to witness and experience his creative process firsthand and it really offers something for everyone—those who remember Jim’s work with nostalgia and kids who are still thrilled by it today.”

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World is organized by The Jim Henson Legacy and SITES, in cooperation with the Henson Family; The Jim Henson Company; The Muppets Studio, LLC; and Sesame Workshop. The exhibition is made possible by The Biography Channel. Additional support has been provided by The Jane Henson Foundation and Cheryl Henson. This exhibit is not included in Museum general admission and requires a timed-entry ticket. Tickets, on sale now at msichicago.org, are $5 for adults and $2 for kids ages 3-11.

The Biography Channel is a 24-hour digital cable network dedicated to presenting compelling stories about the world’s most interesting people. One of the most sought after and fastest growing channels available today, The Biography Channel presents vibrant profiles of intriguing individuals, plus exciting new original series, short features and documentaries. For more information, visit biography.com.

Established in 1993, The Jim Henson Legacy was created by family and friends in response to the extraordinary interest in the life and work of Jim Henson. The organization is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Henson’s contributions to the worlds of puppetry, television, motion pictures, special effects and media technology. By making Henson’s creative body of work available to the public through presentations and exhibits, the Legacy will share the power of Henson’s art and imagination and his positive view of life with generations to come.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. 

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