As a child of the ’80s, I watched Sesame Street daily. You probably did, too! There was something so warm and welcoming about that world. And no offense to Gordon or Maria, but for me, the best part of Sesame Street was the puppets. Oscar, Big Bird, Elmo, Bert and Ernie — these puppets were as real to me as the humans that inhabited the ‘Street.
These characters came to be because of the brilliant Jim Henson, whose imagination created the wonderful worlds of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, plus the more experimental The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
This summer, this iconoclastic innovator is being celebrated Ohio’s Center Of Science and Industry (COSI). Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited is now open at COSI and it’s a joyful celebration of the power of imagination.
This comprehensive exhibition reveals how Henson and his team of builders, performers and writers brought to life the one-of-a-kind worlds seen on The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and more. The exhibition walls are filled with sketches, quotes, sound bytes and film reels from Henson’s incredible career. I had no idea how long Henson’s career actually was; he got his start while in high school in the 1950s, creating puppets for a Saturday morning children’s program. From there, he studied fine arts in college and moved on WRC-TV, where his Sam and Friends puppet show would become a precursor to the Muppets.
Jim Henson: Imagination Unlimited features a broad range of artifacts related to Henson’s career, including character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, film and television clips, behind-the-scenes footage and iconic costumes. The bright colors and multimedia experience really draw you in, and I was amazed at how thoroughly my kids interacted with each part of the exhibit.
Of course, the puppets truly are the stars of this show, and you’ll see 20 of Henson’s most iconic puppets up close. Highlights include a Kermit the Frog puppet circa 1978, Grover, Bert and Ernie and Count von Count. Seeing these puppets in person is remarkable, and brought me back to my childhood — and it was absolutely delightful to to experience this exhibit with my own children.
As with any COSI exhibit, expect lots of hands-on (pun intended) experiences. Kids can design their own puppets and even try their hand at puppeteering on camera! (You’ll quickly realize that it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.) My kids collaborated to put on a puppet show, and this experience has inspired many more puppet shows in the days since.
“As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.” This quote — found on the walls of the exhibit — has really stuck with me, and epitomizes everything wonderful about Jim Henson. The world needs imagination, and anything that encourages kids to connect with their imaginations should be celebrated. School’s out for the summer, and it’s time for kids to get creative and take their learning outside the classroom. And this exhibit is a wonderful way to do just that.