The Jim Henson Collection

Jim Henson

Jim Henson
Still courtesy of the Jim Henson Company

The Jim Henson Collection contains the film work of Jim Henson (1936–1990) and the Jim Henson Company from Henson’s start in the 1950s through the company’s recent productions.  A rich historical record of a prolific artist’s genesis and development, the collection comprises hundreds of items and dozens of titles, showcasing family prints and various elements of popular and enduring films such as “The Dark Crystal” (1982) and “Labyrinth” (1986), early experimental works such as “Time Piece” and “Wheels That Go,” and works for television such as the “Baker films” on “Sesame Street.”  Henson’s lesser-known work, such as the raw and edited footage for Cyclia, a nightclub project Henson worked on in the late 1960s, is a highlight of the collection.  Cyclia was envisioned as a multimedia experience, a large room covered in faceted shapes.  About a dozen 16mm projectors would screen the images, accompanied by live music.  The project’s sales brochure calls it “a sensational glimpse into the inner contents of our times – a vital, living, expanding experience that consumes its audience.  It is total involvement, total communication.”  The images include animation, outdoor scenes and crowd footage that Henson and his associates shot at the Beatles concert at Shea Stadium in 1965. 

Much of Jim Henson’s early work was in local commercials, creating puppet sketches for coffee and bread companies as well as title sequences for local affiliates.  In 1955, while Henson was still in college, he created “Sam and Friends,” a short nightly puppet show televised in the Washington, D.C., area.  He also made a series of short films called “The Ugly Tourist” for the United States Information Agency.  He soon began to do puppet performances on various late-night talk shows such as “The Tonight Show” and “The Steve Allen Show,” and in 1961 he performed weekly on “The Today Show.”  While making these frequent television appearances, Henson was also working on his own projects.  In 1964 he began “Time Piece,” his Academy Award®-nominated short film.  He also worked on experimental puppet projects like “The Organized Brain.”  At this time he was also very active in the puppeteering community, serving as president of Puppeteers of America from 1962–1963.  Henson remained active in puppeteering throughout his career, fostering new talent and exposing American audiences to puppeteers around the world.  

Henson’s legacy continues just as strongly today.  “Sesame Street,” which premiered in 1969, entered its 40th season in November 2009.  The classic Muppet characters that debuted on “The Muppet Show” in 1976 have starred in eight full-length features; they are now owned and controlled by The Walt Disney Company and continue to appear in television, theme park and online productions.  Two Muppet films, “The Muppet Movie” and “The Great Muppet Caper,” received Academy Award nominations in music categories.  The Jim Henson Company is independently owned and operated by Henson’s adult children and continues to create film, television and online media works for audiences of all ages.

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