Unlimited Possibility: Jim Henson’s Gift of Imagination
Like many people my age, our moral temperament and capacity for compassion was cultivated through Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and Kermit the Frog. Think about how significant that is? As kids, we learned about diversity, social issues, love, empathy and history through puppets. Grounded in innocence, it was authentic, and culturally some of the most impactful education inculcated in this country over the last 50 years. Jim Henson, the man behind Sesame Street, The Muppets, and Fraggle Rock and to a more other-worldly extent, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, created a universe where we could experience inclusion and possibly a mirror looking back at ourselves. This spring, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco will open The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited at a crucial time in our world amidst the backdrop of deep divides and collective exhaustion.
“I think the ideal time to look at Henson and his message is really anytime,” curator Heidi Rabben told us. “His work felt as deeply relevant when I was a child growing up watching Sesame Street, The Muppets, and Fraggle Rock as it remains today. Needless to say, the country's political division, pandemic, and social justice movements have all intensified over the span of time we've been discussing the show, but so much of Henson's vision was about the importance of coexistence at any and all times. Embedded in so much of his work were stories of coming together to overcome challenges. Henson always sought to create a better world on-screen, which allowed people from all walks of life to see parts of themselves reflected.”
When I think of Jim Henson, I think of unlimited possibilities. That the world can be a better place if one were to just simply act with nuance and sensitivity for others. Every relationship Henson’s characters and actors enjoyed with both children and adults was about nurturing friendship and community. Even in my most cynical moments, I consider Jim Henson as a creative genius who preached love, maybe the simplest, yet hardest capacity to attain. And maybe, even harder to comprehend, the idea of teamwork. That decades of the Henson universe continue to live on since his untimely death in 1990, that a Muppet or a Big Bird can show up on TV in 2022 and radiate peace and warmth is the rarest of creative endeavors captured by Imagination Unlimited. We need Jim Henson more than ever, and most importantly, his buoyant vision as a lesson plan for kind and effective human communication. —Evan Pricco
The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited will be on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco from March 31–August 14, 2022.