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March 4, 2011

The Smithsonian – It Plays in Peoria!

But, will it play in Peoria?”  This time-honored question from vaudeville days still stands as the benchmark of quality and success.  Whether politics or culture, the discriminating folks of this central Illinois riverfront city continue to have great sway over things that matter. 

Photo by John E. Barrett, courtesy of The Jim Henson Company. Kermit the Frog © The Muppets Studio, LLC.

Thanks to our Smithsonian Affiliate colleagues at Peoria’s Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian not only “plays in Peoria” but bags a big “boffo!”  Two great Smithsonian exhibitions now embellish the walls of the Lakeview Museum, drawing visitors and appreciative audiences from near and far.  In Plane View:  Abstractions of Flight is a series of masterpiece photographs shot and curated by National Air and Space Museum (NASM) photographer Carolyn Russo.  Russo finds the hidden design details in NASM’s collection of planes and spacecraft, making us look at these marvelous machines from a strikingly original aesthetic, each image provoking a new “Aha!” moment.  Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, put together by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service, recaps 50 years of “Aha!” moments, as it celebrates the creative genius of the person who changed the world with a philosophical frog, a sassy pig, and a voracious cookie-eating beast.   

The Peoria Falcon on loan from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Both exhibits flank the long-term loan of the Peoria Falcon, a stunning artifact from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  Acquired by John Wesley Powell prior to his illustrious career at the Smithsonian, this Native American copper adornment links Peoria to its past, while providing multiple paths to learn about the region, its land, and its people. 

If all this were not enough, I had the pleasure of joining Jane Henson, co-creator of The Muppets and Jim’s lifelong collaborator, for a series of presentations at the Lakeview Museum on February 24 and 25.  Jane’s audiences had the opportunity to see rare film clips and gain special insights into Henson’s creative process.  During the Q&A, many spoke of the enduring influence of these works on their own lives.  

Local puppeteer meets Jane Henson at Lakeview Museum.

We are grateful to Lakeview Museum director Jim Richerson and his accomplished staff for fulfilling the goal of the Smithsonian Affiliations program by bringing the Smithsonian into the local community in so many impressive ways.  And thank you to all our friends in Peoria by voting with your feet in favor of these collaborations.  Saying that the Smithsonian “played in Peoria” is a compliment we wear with pride.   So keep up the good work Affiliates everywhere and “on with the show!” 

Harold A. Closter
Director
Smithsonian Affiliations

Supermarine Spitfire from the "In Plane View" exhibition. Photo by Carolyn Russo.

August 26, 2010

Muppets in Affiliateland

The original Kermit the Frog arrived at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) yesterday. Kermit made his television debut in 1955 as part of a local Washington D.C. television show created by Jim Henson called “Sam and Friends.” Henson’s widow, Jane Henson, donated the original Kermit along with the other puppets from the show. The original Kermit isn’t as green as younger Muppet fans may remember and was fashioned by Henson using his mother’s discarded winter coat. The collection will go on exhibit sometime in November. 

Visitors to the Orange County Regional History Center meet Kermit face-to-face in the SITES exhibition "Jim Henson's Fantastic World."

Affiliates across the nation have collaborated with the Smithsonian to showcase Jim Henson’s characters, whether through a SITES exhibition or through individual artifact loans.  Here are some highlights of Muppet sightings in Affiliate-land:  

Orange County Regional History Center (Orlando, Florida) hosted the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) exhibition Jim Henson’s Fantastic World in 2009. The exhibition wraps-up its national tour at Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences (Peoria, Illinois) in 2011. 

Oscar the Grouch at the Flushing Council for Culture and the Arts.

The Kermit the Frog that is already in NMAH’s collection was first loaned in 1979, in celebration of Sesame Street’s 10th anniversary. In 1994, Jim Henson Productions designated Kermit as a gift, making him a permanent fixture in NMAH’s performance collections. In 2005, NMAH loaned him to The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (Dubuque, Iowa)  to be included in their exhibition Toadally Frogs! 

Oscar the Grouch and five additional puppets, also on loan from NMAH, made an appearance at Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts (Flushing, New York) in 2006 in their exhibition With or Without Strings

Through the Affiliations network, communities across the country have had the opportunity to experience Jim Henson’s lovable characters in their neighborhoods.  You can read more about Kermit’s new home at NMAH here:

Kermit gets some new friends at the Smithsonian
Kermit the Frog comes home to Washington

NMAH loaned Kermit the Frog to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in 2005. Photo courtesy NMAH.

 

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