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City makes a rainbow connection

Laura Shank, Arlo and Ebba check out the Kermit the frog puppet as they enter "The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited" at the Albuquerque Museum. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Laura Shank, Arlo and Ebba check out the Kermit the frog puppet as they enter “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited” at the Albuquerque Museum. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque has found the rainbow connection – and it’s in big part due to the illustrious imagination of Jim Henson.

Six weeks into “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited” at the Albuquerque Museum, museum officials are happy with the increase in attendance, which is beating out previous exhibits.

“The exhibit shows the power of brilliant creativity and how a creator like Jim Henson can make references to a whole different world,” said Andrew Connors, Albuquerque Museum director.

According to Connors, within six weeks, attendance to the museum has surpassed 35,000 visitors, as of Jan. 4.

An updated number wasn’t available yet, Connors said.

“We had our poster exhibit open as well this past weekend,” he said. “We had a good turnout to both with two, very different demographics.”

In recent years, the Albuquerque Museum has had a number of important exhibits.

In December 2018, “Visions of the Hispanic World: Treasures From the Hispanic Society Museum & Library” opened.

It featured works by such high-profile artists as Goya, Velásquez and El Greco. The exhibit brought in 27,000 visitors in its first six weeks.

“‘Hispanic World’ was nowhere near the number of people at the same point,” Connors said. “As far as we know, the Henson exhibit has brought in the most within the first six weeks. We don’t have equivalent numbers and back in the 1980s, the museum did an exhibition on Mayan art and that broke numbers back then.”

Attendance at the Henson exhibit has exceeded both 2015’s “Killer Heels” exhibit, as well as 2018’s “American Jewelry from New Mexico,” both of which saw an increase in attendance.

The Henson exhibit will run for 13 more weeks, ending April 19.

Glady Salcedo and her son Omar, 6, make their puppets give each other high fives as her 15-month-old daughter, Camila, watches. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Glady Salcedo and her son Omar, 6, make their puppets give each other high fives as her 15-month-old daughter, Camila, watches. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Henson’s exhibition explores the three-time Emmy winner’s groundbreaking work for film and television, as well as his impact on popular culture.

It shows how Henson and his team of builders, performers and writers brought to life the enduring worlds of “The Muppet Show,” “Sesame Street,” “Fraggle Rock,” “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth,” as well as his early work on the set of Wilkins Coffee commercials and his high school films.

There’s also a local connection. Henson’s parents retired to Albuquerque, and he visited them regularly during the 1970s. He filmed an Albuquerque scene for 1981’s “The Great Muppet Caper.” A 1974 “Sesame Street” episode took the Muppets to New Mexico to help Luis the fix-it shop owner’s grandparents build an adobe house in Talpa, south of Taos. The singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie performed and hitched a ride to Taos Pueblo in their truck.

“When I was little, I used to go visit friends in Talpa, just south of Taos,” Connors said. “I remember one winter, when Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch were there. The community felt special because Big Bird came to see us. That has stuck with me since I was a child.”

Connors said before the exhibit opened, the museum was trying to find photographs of when “Sesame Street” filmed in the area, so it could possibly be added to it.

“Nothing could be found,” he said.

Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew puppets greet visitors at the Albuquerque Museum's Jim Henson exhibition. The exhibit runs through April 19.

Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew puppets greet visitors at the Albuquerque Museum’s Jim Henson exhibition. The exhibit runs through April 19.

The hundreds of pages of comments from visitors are resonating with Connors.

He said the Henson exhibit is about bringing people together.

“It’s about celebrating friendships and a willingness to come together, no matter how different we are,” Connors said. “Numbers don’t mean anything if the experience isn’t powerful. By and large, people have loved the experience and it’s taking them back to childhood and exploring and understanding the significance.”

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