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How Henson hatched Big Bird

September 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- "The Muppet Show" had humble beginnings: a few pages drawn in marker with cutout photos that read, "Muppets Incorporated takes almost patriotic pride in presenting The Muppet Show, a concept for a half hour big budget show starring The Muppets."

The simple proposal is among the drawings, doodles, puppets and storyboards that show the creative process of Jim Henson, in an exhibit that launches its nationwide tour today at the Arkansas Arts Center and will travel through 2011.

The exhibit shows a primitive drawing of Big Bird, labeled as "Nutty-Bird." Another Big Bird sketch shows how the puppet is operated -- the puppeteer reaches his hand above his head to operate Big Bird's mouth, while seeing outside the puppet by way of a small screen in the costume.

Oscar the Grouch is sketched in a 1969 drawing, but the surly garbage can dweller is purple, not green. The exhibit also showcases Muppets, typically made of fleece or fur fabric and with polyurethane foam.

A drawing on yellow legal-pad paper shows the origins of the Muppet Beaker, along with sketches of the pal to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Henson includes the notes, "Flesh color," "pink nose" and "Mouth to scream."

"Jim Henson was a wonderful artist who worked in many, many media and kind of changed our world, and that's why we're excited about this show," said Nan Plummer, executive director of the Arkansas Arts Center.

"Jim Henson's Fantastic World" comes from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Jim Henson Legacy. It features 100 pieces, many of which have never before been displayed. The pieces are on loan from the Henson family, the Jim Henson Co., the Muppets Studio and Sesame Workshop, along with the Jim Henson Legacy and Smithsonian.

Josette Cole, registrar with the Smithsonian Institutional Traveling Exhibition Service, said the new exhibit is the most comprehensive Henson art show to date.

"A lot of these have never been seen before," she said, referring to doodles and sketches done on typewriter paper, notebooks and legal pads. "With the nature of the works on paper, they can't stay on the road so long . . . because they're intended to be sketches and were not done for durability," Cole said.

The exhibit includes art and photos from Henson's childhood until his death in 1990. One photo, from 1946, shows a young Henson pretending to be a snake charmer with a garden hose in Leland, Miss. In the bright orange and purple entrance to the exhibit, visitors are greeted with a poster featuring a quote from Fraggle Rock's Cantus that organizers say epitomizes Henson: "There are no rules, and those are the rules."

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