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Step into the imagination of a master puppeteer
Jim Henson sits with his characters, including one of his most famous, Kermit the Frog. - photo by Courtesy The Jim Henson Co.

‘Jim Henson's Fantastic World'

When: Through Jan. 18
Where: Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta
How much: $15 adults, $12 students and seniors, $10 children ages 4-12
More info: 404-814-4000

ATLANTA — No matter what generation you’re from, you’ve become friends with Kermit the Frog. You are probably even aware of his strained relationship with Miss Piggy.

But did you know that Jim Henson — the creator of Kermit, Miss Piggy and a whole host of imaginary creatures found on “Sesame Street,” “Fraggle Rock,” “The Muppet Show” and even “The Dark Crystal” — started out making screenprinting for friends in college?

And before Kermit was even a twinkle in Henson’s eye, Henson was working on commercials for dish soap and bread using muppets?

These are some of the insights visitors will gain during a visit to the Atlanta History Center’s exhibit, “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World.”

The exhibit takes you through the college artwork, early storyboards and drawings and later theatrical productions made by Henson.

And kicking off the exhibit, front and center, is Kermit himself. It’s a good place to start, since he’s the iconic figure that has traveled with Henson from the 1960s until Henson’s death in 1990.

There is also a timeline early in the exhibit for visitors not as familiar with Henson and his work, quickly showing you where he was born, where he went to college and where his puppeteering took him afterward.
But it’s not exactly evident how Henson is connected to Atlanta, despite the exhibit being held at the Atlanta History Center.

Leigh Massey, director of marketing at the Atlanta History Center, said the exhibit is part of a larger exhibit that encompasses the Center for Puppetry Arts, too.

The history center had the gallery space for the portion of the exhibit that covers Henson’s early work in commercials, and the Center for Puppetry Arts has exhibits that show how Henson created some of the more well-known muppets.

“We actually have the gallery space, whereas the Center for Puppetry Arts ... is also hosting two exhibitions related to the Jim Henson exhibit we have here,” Massey said. “We’re working together to give audiences the whole Jim Henson experience.”

Massey recommended Henson fans should try to take in both exhibits.

“This exhibit tells more the story of Jim Henson’s creative innovations from his early days, clear to the end,” she said. “Whereas the Center for Puppetry Arts, they have other specific exhibitions that tell the story of how he began the concept of the muppet.”

Children likely won’t mind that part of the story is down the road in downtown Atlanta, though, as they see original puppets of Bert and Ernie and Rolf the dog, too. (Thankfully, they are safely encased in glass boxes for concerned parents of toddlers.)

During a recent Saturday afternoon, many visitors commented on favorite characters they saw throughout the exhibit.

One Roswell woman had fond memories of watching “The Dark Crystal” while another Atlanta woman grew up watching “Sesame Street and “Fraggle Rock.”

In fact, “Dark Crystal” fans get an added bonus with an up-close look at some of those characters on display in the exhibit, too.

At the end of the exhibit there’s an area for kids to put on their own puppet show with Miss Piggy, Kermit, Bert, Ernie and lots of other hand puppets. Older kids can enjoy making their own storyboards for a more sophisticated production.

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