Arts & Culture

Honoring Henson: A Big Dream and a Little Frog

Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts celebrates the opening of the Jim Henson Collection gallery

Kermit the Frog may have made it big on television screens across the world, but the Muppet star never forgot his first lily pad in Mississippi. The town of Leland bills itself as the home of that affable amphibian, whose hobbies include fishing and playing the banjo. His creator, the late Jim Henson, never forgot his Southern roots, either.

Born in Greenville, Mississippi, and raised primarily in Maryland, the late Henson became one of the most beloved artists of the twentieth century with the creation of his Muppets and other characters who appeared on Sesame Street, starred in films, and captivated children—and adults—the world over. Tomorrow, Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts will invite visitors to get to know Henson’s imaginative mind a little better with the opening of the Jim Henson Collection gallery.

The Center for Puppetry Arts opened in 1978 when Kermit and Henson cut the ceremonial ribbon. Since then, the center has served the Atlanta area and visitors from around the world as the country’s largest nonprofit devoted entirely to puppetry. The center will reopen this weekend with a new research library and a 7,500-square-foot gallery space that includes the world’s most complete assemblage of Henson’s work and will feature a rotating set of items from 500 artifacts donated by the Henson family.

“People will be completely gobsmacked when they see the new collection,” says executive director Vincent Anthony. Henson’s desk will be on display flanked by Emmys he won and decorated with his original sketches and notes. “There’s even a papier-mâché moose head that hung above Jim’s office desk—not one of his creations, but something that helped give him inspiration.”

Other must-see items include, of course, Kermit and Miss Piggy, plus a giant fantasy Garthim puppet from Henson’s 1982 film, The Dark Crystal, and a rare Bert and Ernie pair. “They are full-body puppets so you see their legs,” Anthony says. “You don’t usually see a puppet’s bottom half—that’s where the puppeteer’s arms go.”

The grand opening festivities will also include the season opener of a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stage production, walk-around characters, and opportunities to make puppets and meet favorite characters. “It’s in our nature to believe in the make-believe,” Anthony says. “That’s why Jim was able to touch so many lives. There’s still a child in all of us.”