Jim Henson and Creative Role Models
I’m honestly not sure how to start this post.
21 years ago today, we lost one of the greatest creators of all time.
I was almost two years old and already a dedicated Fraggle Rock fan and Sesame Street devotee. I grew up watching VHS recordings of The Muppet Show with my dad and I’m sure this influenced the development of my off-beat humor.
I could launch into a bio of Jim and explain why he was so important to the world, but I’ll leave that to Wikipedia and instead explain why he’s so important to me.
I racked my brains to come up with a term to accurately describe what Jim is to me. Exemplar. Paragon. Shining example of what I hope to accomplish with my own gifts and talents. “Role model” seems like the most obvious word, but I already have lots of role models, like my parents religious figures.
“Creative role model” seems to be as close as I can get to describing Jim’s influence on me, because that’s what I admire about him the most: the quirky, childlike imagination and creativity that he maintained throughout his life. It’s a rare person who hangs onto that beyond childhood, and it’s an even rarer person who trusts that imagination and uses it to bring so much joy and wisdom to the world.
I’m not currently a filmmaker or puppeteer (though if Jim were still around, I probably would be.) I’m primarily an artist and writer, but I find that when I’m connected to my creativity, my childhood imagination is still strong, but with the added wisdom and experience of adulthood. I love silliness and quirky humor. I hope to use my talents and abilities to create joy and bring people together, and I hope that I can see potential in everything and everyone the way Jim did. Who else could give such life to pieces of felt and feathers?
Everyone needs a creative role model, someone whom we admire and who embodies what we hope to accomplish. Whether living or dead, having this person in your mind is almost like having a mentor to guide you through creative decisions and career choices. The trick to this is first knowing what your gifts are and how you’d like to use them, so if you aren’t sure of that start there first. Then, that creative role model should be obvious to you. I’m not saying you should try to copy anyone else, but we learn best by example.
To end this post, here’s a few facts about Jim and how he used his talent:
- Children’s television used to be dry and purely instructional like a classroom on a screen. With Sesame Street, children learned with songs, colorful characters, and fun stories.
- Jim took children’s television a step further when he created Fraggle Rock, a children’s show meant to increase international understanding, because Jim believed a lot of problems occur because people don’t understand each other. In Fraggle Rock, several different races must cooperate and though the show is tons of fun (I own the entire series on DVD) it deals with serious issues like prejudice, spirituality and environment while teaching good values like friendship and sharing.
- Jim brought puppetry and film together by using new camera techniques such as using the frame of the camera as the stage so the puppeteer could work out of sight. He also created new puppets that combined the marionette and the hand puppet and were made of felt and foam rubber. These new soft puppets could express a wider range of emotion than clunky wooden dummies or primitive hand puppets.
- Until the Muppets, puppets were only considered entertainment for children. The Muppets were entertainment everyone could enjoy.
- According to those who worked with him, Jim was a joy to be around. He saw potential in everything, loved to laugh and never said anything negative about anything others created. If he didn’t like something, he’d simply say “Let’s try something else” or “I really appreciate what you were doing, can we look at it another way?”.