Falk on assembling Imagination Illustrated: "My background is in museum work and curatorial work, so I was sort of creating almost like a museum exhibit within a book. When you walk through a museum, sometimes things will catch your interest and you’ll stop and read the whole label. Sometimes you’ll just move on to the next piece of art. There’s something for everybody in this book, whether it’s somebody interested in design, somebody interested in making movies, or somebody interested in personal development. Different things are going to catch different people’s attention, and I tried to keep my descriptions compact so that it wasn’t overwhelming and so the archival materials could really speak for themselves."

Falk on a favorite discovery now published in the book: "There’s a really wonderful drawing by Orson Welles from the period of The Muppet Movie because he had a cameo. Welles drew a picture of himself with a cigar, and Kermit with a cigar. It’s just such a funny thing, and it speaks to the web of relationships that Jim had in the entertainment industry and the world of creative people. I think it’s really nice to be able to point those out and tell those little stories." Here, Henson sits with collaborator Frank Oz.

On the cover: "That piece of art is actually one of my favorites, and I know Jane Henson loves it. That was a title card for Jim’s Washington, D.C. television show Sam and Friends. It was his first show. He was on local television right out of high school, when he was in college. Within about six months of doing puppets on other people’s variety shows and what have you, he was given his own five-minute show. It was this crazy little group of characters lip-synching to comedy records and to songs." The one in the center is Sam. Also note the early version of Kermit.

Falk on the experience of reading Imagination Illustrated: "What I’m hoping people do is get a chronological sense for Jim Henson and everything he did and the people he met, and that they can go back to it and maybe not sit and read it all the way through one time. Things will catch their eye and they’ll go back and find a previous image or a note that refers to something that happened later or somebody he met. There’ll be a sort of immersive experience where it builds on you in terms of getting a sense of the enormity of the work that he produced."

Why is Henson’s vision so enduring? "People really relate to his characters. What Jim really pioneered was was taking puppet characters and putting them on television and making people relate to them. They felt like they were actual living, breathing…not people, because they’re animals, but you know what I mean--beings. People can relate to them very differently than, say, an animated character. They interact with humans and they care about each other and when they do things there are consequences. I think that was really Jim’s gift, making these characters so believable that we welcomed them into our hearts and made them part of our world."

From daughter Lisa Henson’s written preface to Imagination Illustrated: "Jim spent almost all of his waking hours in some form of creative activity, which was as natural for him as smiling and walking are for other people. What he produced was only a fraction of all the ideas that he had, and what we generally see today is only a fraction of what he produced." Falk adds: "There’s so much wonderful stuff in the archives and I’m just looking for ways to share it."

More on Henson’s prodigious productivity: "You look through the book and you read all the little different journal entries and you see how overlapping his ideas were and how there’s an idea from one time that shows up later on. You recognize that he was just constantly thinking and coming up with new ideas and imagining new things, just as a regular part of his day."

On Henson’s tendency for posterity: "Jim came from a family that really kept records and kept files. His mother and aunt made scrapbooks, they kept clippings. He had a great-grandfather that was a Civil War cartographer, and he kept journals and logs of what he did. I think Jim also had a sense that people might be interested in what he did and it might be worth saving stuff and keeping track of it. I also felt like his brain was so full that he really needed to kind of download. Nowadays we don’t memorize phone numbers because they’re in our phone, we know where to get information so we don’t necessarily carry it in our head. I think in the pre-digital age, Jim was doing that by keeping a log of his activities so he didn’t have to remember when he did something, he could just look it up."

Co.Create

Take A Look Inside Jim Henson's Creative Process With "Imagination Illustrated"

Henson Company archivist Karen Falk has collected the results of Jim Henson’s unceasing creativity in a new book. Here, she shares thoughts (and images) on Henson’s work and on the process of putting the book together.

Digging around in Jim Henson’s journal and endless collection of Muppets-abilia would be a dream job for anyone age five through 75. But it’s Karen Falk’s daily life, and has been for her two decades as the Henson Company’s director of archives. Hired by Jane Henson in 1992, shortly after Jim’s death, Falk began the long process of acquainting herself with the copious amount of Henson’s source material, sorting through all manner of sketches, notes, photos, props. Since the early aughts, Falk has concentrated on showcasing her studied expertise and eminent access for the worldwide fans of The Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Henson’s fantastical film career. The work culminated in the Falk-curated Jim Henson’s Fantastic World, a Smithsonian-associated exhibit which traveled for five years, concluding early in 2012.

Now, in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal, Falk shares her anthropological findings in a lovingly crafted and sequenced book of nearly 200 pages. "I’m really always looking for ways to share the material," Falk tells Co.Create. "We’re not a public collection; I’m not having people come and use the collection on any kind of regular basis. So for me to be able to do a book is just a huge opportunity to really get Jim’s story out there but really make all this wonderful material available as well."

Above, check out Co.Create’s series of images from Imagination Illustrated, along with Karen Falk’s commentary on the creative process behind the book, why Henson’s material remains so resonant, and how staggeringly prolific the puppeteer was. If that’s not enough for the most ardent Muppet-heads, check out Jim Henson’s Red Book, a blog Falk maintains from Henson’s 25-year journal of achievements and milestones, both personal and professional. The notebook’s incredibly comprehensive timeline pairs nicely with--and factors heavily into--Falk’s book.

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  • Michael Thomas

    Jim Henson had major unaconoledged creative help with the muppet characters from me the conciever of all cartoons and the original puppet