On the anniversary of the late Jim Henson’s birthday, the National Museum of American History received a donation unlike any other. Twenty Jim Henson puppets, including some of the very first constructed of the famous characters (see below for a green Grover), will go on view in the museum later this year and early next. Some of Henson’s most beloved characters from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock had to first be prepared for the donation ceremony. Lucky for us, intern Leanne Elston got these fun behind-the-scenes shots and gave us some insight into what went on backstage. Here’s an excerpt:
“When I walk into the textiles conservation lab on Wednesday afternoon, Bonnie Erickson is standing over the form of the Muppet Grover, who’s laid out on the table getting his eyes glued back on. Bonnie, the executive director of The Jim Henson Legacy, affectionately refers to the puppet as ‘old Grover,’ because he’s the original puppet from 1967. He has greenish-brown fur, instead of the familiar blue we know today, and, once his eyes are secured, Bonnie gets to work bringing him back to life.
“Grover is the last puppet Bonnie is working on, along with Sunae Park Evans, the National Museum of American History’s senior costume conservator. Bonnie re-stuffs the limp form she calls ‘bag o’Grover,’ and, when she’s finished with him, she and Sunae move him to a new base. They discuss how to arrange his arms and try a variety of positions before pinning his hands in place so that suddenly, Grover is alive and inviting us into his fun, kooky world.”
Many of Hensons’ puppets will be on view later this year in a new display case called Puppetry in America while Miss Piggy will go on display in the American Stories exhibition in March 2014. Now here are the smile-inducing photos of the puppets getting ready for their big museum donation debut as well as some fun portrait shots of some of Hensons’ most personality-filled characters.
Above: Elmo and Fozzie Bear make a happy pair. As preparations finish for the donation ceremony, it seems that no matter where you turn in the conservation lab, there’s a puppet there to make you smile.
The original Grover had greenish-brown fur and a red nose, instead of the familiar blue fur and pink nose we know today. J.P. Grosse watches over Bonnie as she glues Grover’s original eyes back on.
Sunae trims a few stray threads with a practiced hand.
Bert’s shirt is a little too long, so Bonnie and intern Sara Roberts give him a new foam base to make him taller. Meanwhile, the Cookie Monster waits in the background for someone to give him a delicious snack.
Bonnie and Sara examine the Swedish Chef. The Fraggle Rock trio can be seen grouped together in the background.
Grover is a self-described “cute, furry little monster” that was created for Sesame Street and is a hand and rod puppet made of synthetic fur, foam, and plastic. This puppet is the first incarnation of Grover with green fur, originally performed by Frank Oz.
Cookie Monster, a live hand puppet, was created in 1966 for a skit that aired on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and was used as a cast member of “Sesame Street.” He is made of blue synthetic fur, foam, and plastic and was originally performed by Frank Oz.
Ernie is a hand and rod puppet made of foam, felt, plastic, and cloth. He debuted on the “Sesame Street” pilot program in 1969. Ernie was originally performed by Frank Oz; Oz was followed by Eric Jacobsen.
Bert is a live hand puppet made of foam, felt, plastic, and cloth. He debuted on the “Sesame Street” pilot program in 1969. Jim Henson originally performed Bert and was succeeded by Steve Whitmire.
This early puppet character was created in the early 1960s for Purina Dog Food commercials. The character is made of synthetic plush fur, foam, and plastic. Rowlf was performed originally by Jim Henson.
Count Von Count is a live hand puppet made of cloth and foam. Created for “Sesame Street,” this puppet is meant to be a parody of Bela Lugosi’s film portrayal of vampire Count Dracula. The Count was originally performed by Jerry Nelson.
Red Fraggle is a hand and rod puppet made of cloth, felt, foam, and plastic. The character is one of the central figures of “Fraggle Rock” and is identifiable by the pom poms of her “hair.” She was performed by Karen Prell.
Miss Piggy is a hand and rod puppet, made of foam, felt, and cloth and was created for “The Muppet Show.” She was originally performed by Frank Oz.
Fozzie Bear is the resident comedian of The Muppet Show. He is a live hand puppet made of synthetic fur, foam, and plastic. He was performed originally by Frank Oz.
Elmo is a hand and rod puppet character created for Sesame Street. He is made of foam, red synthetic fur, and plastic.
President of the Jim Henson Foundation Cheryl Henson presents a new donation of 20 Jim Henson puppets and props on the anniversary of his birthday during an event at the Smithsonian National American History Museum in Washington, DC, September 24, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON.
Posed for pictures after the ceremony, the puppets look as lively as ever.
After the ceremony, those involved in the donation get their photos taken with the puppets.