University Libraries Digital Collections

Jim Henson at UMD

In 1954, Jim Henson entered the University of Maryland as a major in studio art. The multitude of artwork that survives from this point in Jim"s career indicates that he had a colorful visual imagination, a sharp eye for detail, and a creative knack for design. As a freshman at the University of Maryland, Jim was given the opportunity hone his puppetry skills during a course taught by Edward Longley in the Home Economics Department, as well as through practical experience. His earliest endeavors into television took place immediately before and during his time as an undergraduate at UMD. While a student in a puppetry class, he met fellow University of Maryland student Jane Nebel, who was an early partner in his television shows and would later become his wife.

Following a short-lived morning puppet segment on a local Washington station, Jim was hired by WRC-TV in 1955 to create a five-minute puppet show that would air twice nightly. Entitled Sam and Friends, this program earned Henson his first Emmy in 1958 -- two years before his graduation from the University of Maryland. For Sam and Friends, Henson introduced many of the elements that would become mainstays of his Muppet Show aesthetic -- music, zany humor, and an early Kermit as a lizard-like creature. During his time at Maryland and WRC-TV, Jim Henson began to develop innovative puppetry skills that made his Muppets life-like and expressive, and that would have a profound effect on the way puppetry would be performed for television and films.

The Jim Henson Collection includes viewing copies of important Henson works, such as compilations of early works including commercials and Sam and Friends segments, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and the Muppet Babies, as well as other numerous television specials. The collection is accessible through an online digital project known as The Jim Henson Works at the University of Maryland.

His legacy of imagination, humor, and creativity is a gift to both young and old alike. In Jim Henson’s own words, “I believe in taking a positive attitude toward the world, toward people, and toward my work. I think I’m here for a purpose. I think it’s likely that we all are, but I’m only sure about myself.”