"As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasty, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood," explained Jim Henson. A fantastic exhibit that touches upon Henson's creativity and the puppets, advertisements, films, and multimedia that he and his collaborators developed is at Peoria's Lakeview Museum. Jim Henson's Fantastic World, an exhibit organized by the Smithsonian, is particularly good at showing Henson's creative process and how he developed an artist. It's also an interesting walk down memory lane. Depending on your age, you'll remember Sir Linit commercials, Sesame Street characters and short number films, The Muppets TV series, the Fraggles, or films, which were short and experimental and later feature films, such as Dark Crystal. It's not an in-depth exhibit, but an overview. The exhibit was at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry last year, but it's displayed differently at the Lakeview so that some objects and artwork that you may have missed before now seem more prominent. That seemed particularly true of the early TV advertisements.
Since it's not just about the Sesame Street characters, young children and their families may be a little disappointed. But for fourth graders and up, this is a great show for introducing the spectrum of Henson's work as well as contemplating how people create. Is it all just fun? Is it skill? How much is innate talent and how much hard work? Just think how amazing it is that Henson created the original Kermit the Frog from his mother's old spring coat and a ping-pong ball. It makes you want to see what you can create at home, too. You'll probably end up singing the "Manha Mahna" song -- have it preprogrammed on our iPod so that you can sing it on the way home.
You'll also want to buy a bunch of felt-tip markers in lots of colors and doodle for hours afterward. Henson and his team were ace doodlers and marker masters. Markers aren't necessarily used so much these days with computers, tablets, and Photoshop. But they produced results that were lively and wild. (Doodling is still a great inspirational activity.) It's also amazing that the puppeteers could be given by Henson a somewhat abstract marker rendition of a puppet idea and turn it into a full-fledged puppet with personality.
As the National Geographic wrote in its review of the exhibit, there's something inspiring about a person who passed away more than 20 years ago who continues to influence the world in an amazingly creative way. Henson said, "My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here."
Students in my children's literature course can go to the exhibit and write about it for extra credit. Many did already over ISU's spring break. If you're in central Illinois and now have kids on spring break, you might want to check out the Lakeview exhibit as a fun adventure. There's a Culver's nearby and a few other restaurants in the Metro Centro, just north of Lakeview, if you need lunch. Lakeview also is featuring an interesting photography exhibit from the Smithsonian of up-close images of airplanes and space shuttles, In Plane View: Abstractions of Flight. If you've ever wanted to see a spy plane details, this is your chance.