Twenty years ago, Karen Falk was looking through a publication for museum professionals and saw a job listing for an archivist at The Jim Henson Company. At the time, she was working with museum clients at Christie’s, but she was ready for a change of pace.
Henson died in 1990, and shortly thereafter, his widow Jane Henson decided that the company needed to maintain its extensive collection of documents, puppets, films, video and ephemera.
“I was a casual fan of Henson,” Falk told Indiewire. “I loved ‘The Muppet Show,’ but I was a little old for ‘Sesame Street.'”
In addition to helping produce a graphic novel based on an unrealized script of Henson’s, developing materials for DVD extras, and aiding a writer working on a definitive biography of the beloved icon, Falk is busy with her own book based on Henson’s Red Book, “Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal.”
The Red Book, a red fabric bound journal Henson started in 1965 (after writing what milestones had occurred that year, he filled in the ten years prior) and kept up until 1988, was a journal in which Henson made notes about important life events. “It’s funny,” Falk explained. “Jim’s journal is written in something like tweets — short thoughts.”
Talking about the collection, she added, “Jim saved everything. I have a lot to work with. When I started, it wasn’t documented or organized. But the Red Book became my guide. It’s a private family document, but I used it to see what was going on in his life at any one time. I would look for fiiles, scripts and artwork from the 1950’s and 1960’s based on what I read in the Red book.”
Falk contextualized Henson’s tweet-like entries with short blog posts on her Jim’s Red Book blog, which is a fascinating nostalgic trip down memory lane that not only shows off Henson’s best works (many of them little known) but also contextualizes the work with Henson’s relationships with collaborators and historical events.
Falk’s work on the collection led her to curate the recent Smithsonian exhibit, which traveled to the Museum of the Moving Image and other venues.
For Falk, the work is constantly rewarding. “Jim’s effect on creative leaders from his generation — like George Lucas — and the ones after — like Jason Segal and ‘Up’ director Pete Docter — is incredible. I have to say, I am constantly re-impressed with him as an artist, as a human, as a person, he was so consistent with the kinds of messaging he wanted to present, especially things like caring about other people.”
Favorite Henson Character:
I love all the things related to Rowlf the dog. He’s one of my favorite characters. He represents the connection between Jim and so many different people that he was working with at the time. I love his original sketches and designs we have, the Rolf licensed toys.
Favorite Piece in the Archive:
We have all these little notebooks he kept in his pockets – telephone numbers, notes, reminders, he dated them all. It’s fun to connect those to the things he was doing at the time.
Favorite Henson Film:
“Great Muppet Caper” is my favorite of Jim’s movies.
Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” It is such a love letter to the city and it came out when I was a teenager (in the DC area) with aspirations to live in NYC. Looking back, all of the books I loved as a kid took place in NY so it’s no surprise that I connected with “Manhattan” so strongly – and, I saw it with my dad, a former New Yorker. (Do those exist? I think once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker….)
Author Karen Falk, The Jim Henson Company’s Archivist, to give presentation on Saturday, November 3, 2012, at 2:00 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image, followed by book signing