In the fall of 2011, I found new inspiration and motivation in the timeless sketches and ideas of Jim Henson in Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Menomena muppets from Jim Henson's Fantastic World

At the time of visiting the Fantastic World exhibit, I was a young twenty-something still trying to find her place in the world, while trying to make a living as a graphic artist fresh out of college. By seeing Jim Henson’s sketches and process work at the Fantastic World exhibit, I was inspired to see that even an amazing artist such as Henson began his ideas from such simple beginnings. I loved seeing his rough pencil drawings, such as the early drawings of Big Bird. Having grown up with characters such as Big Bird on Sesame Street, it was amazing to see Big Bird as just an idea on paper. It was a reminder to me that great ideas start just as that – ideas. Seeing his rough sketches and scribbled notes gave me courage to let my own ideas grow and flourish, no matter how humble their beginnings.

Early muppet sketches by Jim Henson

And as far as beginnings go, I also learned that Jim had quite the varied resume before doing his most notable work with Sesame Street and the Muppets. Although Jim did work with puppets for most of his career, many of his muppet characters had their beginnings in commercial videos such as:

Purina-Dog-Chow_Jim-Henson_120x84 Wheels-Flutes-Crowns_Jim-Henson_120x84 Wilkins-Coffee_Jim-Henson_120x84 Linit-Fabric-Finish_Jim-Henson_120x84
Ralph the Dog for Purina Dog Wheels, Flutes, and Crowns Wilkins Coffee Linit Fabric Finish

In these videos, you can see many early beginnings of the muppets, such as Ralph the dog in Purina Dog chow, and Cookie Monster in “Wheels, Flutes, and Crowns”. I loved seeing these goofy 1960s commercials 🙂 These videos were also inspiring because I feel that many artists who work in the corporate world, often dream of pursuing their own art or something more meaningful beyond the walls of the corporate world. Seeing Jim Henson’s early commercial work is a reminder to do always do good work, because it can still feed your dream, even if the work is not your dream at the time.

Just as Henson expanded upon his puppetry, he also demonstrated constant experimentation and ability to explore new artistic mediums. Henson’s love of experimentation is evident in his 1965 short film “Time Piece.”

Time Piece is a short film that utilizes the medium of video and animation to emphasize rhythm and exaggerate the illusion of movement and storytelling. Henson’s ambitions for experimentation and storytelling are also evident in his piece, “Tale of Sand,” a script written with Jerry Juhl, and later discovered in the Henson archives by Karen Falk. Tale of Sand, by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Ramon Perez“Tale of Sand” was never brought to fruition as a film, but now exists as a graphic novel with art by Ramon K. Perez. Though both “Time Piece” and “Tale of Sand” expand beyond Henson’s more well-known puppetry work, they still carry his imaginative vision.

As artists, and as people in general, we are always defining and redefining our identities as we change and go through different life experiences. Perhaps what was most inspiring to me in seeing Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, is that Jim was able to carry his charismatic imagination and vision through all parts of his artistic process, from rough sketches, to commercial puppetry, and to more experimental film work. That was the most inspiring part to me, knowing that no matter what part of the process you are in, no matter what stage of life you may be in, you can constantly develop your own artistic voice, and maybe even share it and enhance the lives of those around you, just as Jim most certainly did.

To learn more about Jim Henson’s Fantastic World and the work mentioned in this post, please visit:

Jim Henson Legacy

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World

A Tale of Sand
Stuart Warren, Columnist and Webmaster for Sequart Organization

This post is based upon my personal experience visiting the Jim Henson exhibit, as well as documentation associated with the exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution, the Jim Henson company, and the Sequart Organization. For any corrections / comments about this post, please contact Miranda at:

Cover photo property of Smithsonian Institute