Who is the baddest pig you’ve ever seen? There’s only one answer: Miss Piggy.
Originally named after the iconic actor and singer Peggy Lee, the popular karate-chopping swine was created by Bonnie Erickson in 1974 for a stint on “The Tonight Show.”
“I knew she was sassy,” said Erickson, who was a creative designer for “The Muppet Show.” The rest is history.
You can see Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog and their other beloved pals at “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unleashed,” on display at the Maryland Center for History and Culture through the end of the year. Early iterations of popular characters, storyboards and video clips line the gallery as viewers are taken on a journey through Henson’s extensive career, including fan-favorite films like “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal,” as well as his work on children’s shows such as “Fraggle Rock” and “Sesame Street.”
Walking through the exhibit is nostalgic, but Barbara Miller, curator and deputy director of New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, wants people to know it’s more than that. “You’ll learn things about television history and things about Jim Henson that you wouldn’t have known before,” Miller said, such as his experimental film period — a venture that almost made him leave puppetry behind.
Items on display come from the Henson archives in Los Angeles and New York — the latter “like a block away” from Miller’s home institution. The proximity allowed her to pore over the materials that helped her tell the story of Henson’s life and gave her access to the creature shop, which made it easier to conserve the puppets.
Those familiar with Henson may know he has a strong connection to Maryland: He grew up in Prince George’s County and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. Though this is the exhibition’s 10th venue nationwide, visitors can only see the portion of the exhibit that pertains to his life in Maryland, curated by Jim Henson Company Archives Director Karen Falk, here in Baltimore.
Erickson said that Henson’s Maryland connection gives visitors “an idea of how he persevered” through his early arts career and shows just how far the Muppets have come. You can see black-and-white footage of his “Sam and Friends” series, which premiered on local Washington, D.C., television in 1955, with an early, hand-stitched version of Kermit in a black bowl-cut wig.
Erickson, who worked alongside Henson for decades and travels with the exhibition, still sees so much joy in his work. “I often tell people, ‘You think you enjoy watching the Muppets in any way, shape or form? You have no idea how much fun we had working with Jim.”