Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The End of an Era: Thoughts on the passing of Jane Henson

"The end of an era."
That's what Lauren said before we silently went back to work after I announced Jane Henson's death to the shop yesterday.  In many ways it is. I never met Jim Henson, but very early in my career I was fortunate enough to meet Jane. At about the time I started working for the Jim Henson Company, Jane started the Jim Henson Legacy to preserve and maintain awareness of Jim's work as an artist. For me, as a young aspiring puppet artist myself, finding out about Jim and Jane's early days with the Muppets was enormously inspiring and somehow made puppets and film seem a lot more accessible.  I felt like it was possible to do this, too.  

I was one among a group of artists working in and around Henson's New York workshop in the early nineties. We all came from different places and have gone our separate ways since. Some have become performers, independent artists and teachers, some have passed away, some of us have started companies of our own.  But we have all benefitted from Jane's continual presence and support over the years.  Whether through advice, encouragement, the generous use of her resources, or just an honest (at times brutally honest) critique, Jane has given us a tremendous boost we wouldn't have otherwise had.

Recently, I was attending a presentation of Icarus, a gorgeous theatrical piece with puppets built by my friend Michael Bush, made possible by a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation. We were all crammed into the studio in Jane's old carriage house on 67th street, and I was telling a friend of mine how many memories I had there.  Some of  my earliest experiences in puppetry and film took place in Jane's famous carriage house.  I attended special workshops she led on the Muppet-style performance technique.  We shot a new wave of Muppet Meeting films there, for which I had built a couple of characters Jane took a liking to--and she let me know it. This was the studio in which we shot the demo pilot for Bear in the Big Blue House, my first big break as a designer. My friends and I also made a few independent puppet films in that space. For us, the carriage house (which Jane had opened to us) became a kind of unofficial puppet laboratory in New York.  In so many ways, direct and indirect, Jane has helped and encouraged me and countless others over the years. 

So, the end of an era?  Maybe. But Jane's quiet legacy continues on a thousand fold through all the people she has supported and encouraged along the way. We are forever in her debt. She will never be forgotten.

If you'd like to find out more about Jane Henson and her contributions to the world of puppetry, the Jim Henson Company has posted a tribute page on their website which you can find here .