Faithful Departed: Jane Henson
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
It is often said that children are closest to God; that through their wonder at the world, care for others and genuine joy, we are reminded of the way God wants us to view His creation and treat each other. For many of us, the movies and television we watched when we were little can be a powerful gateway back to our own childhood — things like Sesame Street and The Muppets in particular have the power to bring us back to the way we saw the world back then. Muppets of all kinds are more than pervasive in my home— from summer trips to Sesame Place with my 7-year-old little sister (and my 14-year-old little brother before her, and me before him!) to gathering together as a family to watch one of the many Muppet Christmas movies in the winter (The Muppet Christmas Carol is a particular favorite of mine), Kermit the Frog Big Bird, and friends have been a near-constant reminder of the happiness and goodness of youth.
For those of us born in the 90s, after the death of Jim Henson himself, Jane Henson is the one to thank for these cultural staples. In addition to helping her husband create the Muppets in 1950, Jane was instrumental in keeping Jim’s name and memory alive in the wake of his passing in 1990. In 1993, she set up the Jim Henson Legacy to remember, commemorate and continue the work of her late husband.
Also, Jane was a board member for the Jim Henson Foundation and the American Center for Children’s Television; co-founded the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center; and received honors from many puppetry organizations, such as the Union Internationale de la Marionette, Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, the University of Maryland Alumni Association, the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, the Paley Center, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Additionally, she worked on many puppetry projects of her own, particularly her Nativity Story, which was recently broadcast as part of a CBS special that aired on Christmas Eve.
I had the opportunity to attend the taping of said special, and the effect of the puppet Nativity scene was even more breathtaking to see in person than it was on screen. The sheer attention to detail in those minuscule puppets, and the power of displaying such a grand story on such a small scale truly emphasized not only Mrs. Henson’s utter mastery of her craft, but her spiritual devotion as well. The loving and guiding hand of someone who deeply understood the significance and profoundness of this tale was evident in every moment of the Nativity, and knowing that such understanding came from the same source that taught me that “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas” was beautifully moving.
Jane Henson’s legacy lives on in the work of her five children: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John and Heather, each of whom is contributing to and expanding the Henson Company’s reach and repertoire, proudly building upon the foundation that Jane and Jim created. Hopefully they, too, following in their parents’ footsteps, will inspire us to remember the gleeful and innocent way we looked at the world when we were children, and help us to keep that childlike closeness to God in our hearts.