Kermit the Frog. Oscar the Grouch. Cookie Monster. Big Bird.

Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, Leland native Jim Henson spent his time creating these iconic television characters and others known to people of all ages all over the world.

Beginning Saturday, Jan. 12, visitors of The MAX, Mississippi’s arts and entertainment experience, will have the opportunity to tour The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited, a traveling exhibition that explores the life of the multi-talented artist and the impact that his whimsical creations had on popular culture.

Cheryl Henson

The exhibit’s opening day will include “Celebrating Jim Henson and the Art of Puppetry,” a lecture from Henson’s daughter, Cheryl. She will share clips and personal stories with visitors beginning at 10 a.m. There will also be a panel discussion from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. featuring Miss Piggy creator Bonnie Erickson, Cheryl Henson, and Karen Falk, The Jim Henson Company Director of Archives. “The Legacy of Jim Henson: A Panel Discussion by Henson Experts” will take place at the Mississippi State University Riley Center for the Performing Arts and is free of charge to the public.

Before coming to Mississippi, which was in the plans shortly after The MAX opened in spring 2018,  Imagination Unlimited was showcased in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. This is the first and last time the exhibit will travel to the southeastern region of the country.

“Jim Henson was a creator and entertainer with a unique vision, and he had a tremendous influence on our culture by giving us these magical characters and worlds that many of us grew up with,” Mark Tullos, executive director of The MAX, said in a press release. “This is yet another story of a native Mississippian who left his mark on the world, and this exhibit allows visitors to retrace Henson’s life from his early years in Leland, Mississippi, to the studios of PBS to the film sets of major motion pictures.”

Featuring character sketches, storyboards, scripts, photographs, film and television clips, behind-the-scenes footage, iconic costumes and over 20 puppets, the exhibit is both comprehensive and interactive.

A behind the scenes photo of Henson (center) with other puppeteers

Through behind-the-scenes glimpses, children and adults will discover how Henson and his crew of voice actors, builders and creators developed a famous family of puppets and characters that welcomed viewers into the magical worlds of Sesame Street, The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and The Dark Crystal.

After taking a brief look at Henson’s early life and learning of the mechanics and creative brain power that contributed to some of his first creations, visitors may be inspired take advantage of the interactive opportunities provided in the exhibit — and see what it’s like to puppeteer on camera and design an original puppet character.

“This is a world-class exhibition,” Tullos said. “One of our objectives at The MAX has been to provide such amazing and exciting attractions as this one in addition to the experience offered by our permanent exhibits here.”

For more information on Imagination Unlimited, which will end its run at The MAX May 4, click here.

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Sereena Henderson managed Mississippi Today’s social media and reported on Mississippi culture from August 2016 until June 2020. She was also a member of the engagement team and curated and delivered the daily newsletter. Sereena, a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is a graduate of the Ole Miss School of Journalism and New Media.