Noah’s Ark and Jim Henson at the Skirball Cultural Center

August 17, 2018 Paul Groves

Down the 405 Freeway about 30 minutes from our home is the Skirball Cultural Center.  This complex houses many artifacts about the Jewish experience in America, but also has various exhibits on display.  I was reading about an exhibition of Jim Henson and the many creative projects that go way beyond the Muppets.  Ron said that there was another exhibit called Noah’s Ark at the Skirball that he had heard about so we made plans to visit the Center after our Road Trip to Utah.

Noah’s Ark was totally unexpected for me.  This is actually a place designed for children, but we were fascinated by the creativity and artwork built into this explorable area.  A quote on one wall sums it up: “Life is about second chances.”  That is what happened with Noah’s Ark, but the animals in this exhibit/playground are made of recycled materials… a different kind of second chance.  One of the first examples we came across is the Kiwi Bird made of a boxing glove, shuttlecock, oil can, and paintbrushes!

Look closely at some of the other animals in the ark.

Besides all of these clever creations made from fans and springs and rope and beads and rubber hose, the ark itself is interactive.  Turning cranks and pulling levers caused rain and lightening as well as the sound of wind and caused some of the animals to move.  One of my favorite creatures is this alligator made from an old violin and violin case!

In another part of the Center, there was housed a collection of artifacts, videos, notebooks, and information about Jim Henson and his long career of re-imagining the world of puppets.

His early projects included short broadcasts on community television and later many television commercials featuring puppets.  As he coined the name Muppets appearances on various television variety shows became common.  The link to Sesame Street and educational television was forged at this time.  Later projects included The Muppet Show where two of my favorite scientists, Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, appeared.

Movies followed television and featured the Muppets and other immersive worlds such as in Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Fraggle Rock.  Seeing these actual puppets in the exhibit, flipping through some of Jim Henson’s sketch books, and realizing that Jim Henson basically figured that nothing is impossible was a great way to spend the afternoon.  We grew up with many of these characters and their creator.  Learning about some of the background ideas and techniques was fascinating.