“There are no rules, and those are the rules.” (Cantus Fraggle)
The Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit, part of the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service, is AMAZING. I was lucky enough to catch it at Lexington, MA and it was a treasure trove of images, models, sketches quotes and film shorts of all Henson’s various projects – muppetty and otherwise. It was more than that really, it was a exploration of the man himself – his diverse interests, his particular way of seeing and responding to the world, his acute creative mind and collaborative genius. Near the beginning was a childhood snapshot of him sitting cross-legged in his garden, “charming” a garden hose. He never really lost that sense of play, always taking elements of colour and texture, bits of fairy tales and characteristics of people he’d met and building a world with them that was somehow absurd, familiar and poignant all at the same time.
There were some quotes of his that particularly jumped out at me:
“I was always a very shy person, very much more comfortable with a puppet on stage and me not being seen.”
“The world (of Fraggles) will have its own balances, though these will be rather insane. But still we will make the point that everything affects everything else, and that there is a beauty and harmony of life to be appreciated.”
This last one seems to me one of the best descriptions of play that I have heard – its seeming-anarchy and constant improvisation, its holistic nature, its warm heart. That this world could have been created by a man who professionally was miraculously creative, expressive and no less than revolutionary, but still deeply shy, should perhaps not have surprised me as much as it did.
Henson died in 1990, and I still remember the bright colours, muppet speakers and jazz music of the party that was his memorial services. He left behind a wealth of images and characters that still speak to children eloquently about their world, their own selves and their potential. Judging by the ages and laughter of the people at the museum, how adults grinned and pointed at their favorites and sneaked illegal photographs, giggled and sang bits of theme tune, Henson’s world speaks still to the former-children who loved him first, about the natures of childhood, play and humanity.
So here is the last quote from him, one that I’ve kept bookmarked in my notepad, because it always makes me smile.
“I believe that we form our own lives, that we create our own reality, and that everything works out for the best. I know I drive some people crazy with what seems to be ridiculous optimism but it has always worked out for me.”