Back to

Q&A with Heather Henson (Progeny of the One-and-Only Jim)

Heather Henson

The IMA welcomes Heather Henson, President and Artistic Director of IBEX Puppetry and a crew of kite makers for aperformance in 100 Acres this weekend to mark the Spring EquinoxHeather and her comrades perform a puppet show in the sky – the story of a young crane.

IMA’s Facebook friends had a few questions for Heather.  Here is the interview, conducted yesterday while the kite makers practiced in the unseasonably hot sun.

Is there a theme or story behind your kite performance? And if so, how do you decide on the concepts?

This show [called Celebration of Flight] is about a young whooping crane learning to fly with a flock.  The whopping crane’s life cycle makes a good archetypal story. The show is about how birds fly with the season. Our concept was to find the dance in nature and represent that flow. You know, we’re at that point in time halfway between winter and summer, with a perfect balance between day and night. We’re in the middle of the country and the birds are flying back north. It’s a moment of crossing over.

Cranes mean a lot to me — I’m a board member for the International Crane Foundation.  Cranes are still endangered, but the numbers are back on the rise.  Humans have really stepped in to help the cranes.

Rehearsing for this weekend's performance.

What is your favorite performance that you have ever done?

We once did a show in a cathedral.  It’s great to work in scared spaces.  Though landscapes are also sacred for me.

Do you have a favorite puppet?

Whichever one I’m working on at the moment – unless I’m mad at it.  Right now it’s the adolescent crane puppet.

Do you prefer stage, cinema or gallery puppetry?  Why?

I prefer stage because that’s where the most magic can happen.  The perfection required for cinema is a challenge, and in a gallery you can see the craftsmanship of the puppetry up close.

Is it common for puppeteers to also do character voices?

Yes…but I don’t!  My dad loved to sing and I’m not a singer.  But most puppeteers certainly use their voices.

What is your favorite memory of your father, Jim Henson?

I remember that he’d be working so hard, and one of the first things he’d do when he got home was take me for a walk in the woods. We lived in Bedford, New York, which was near a wildlife refuge.  His love of nature was often reflected on The Muppet Show.  I remember the show where Linda Rondstadt guest-starred and sang Blue Bayou with a chorus of frog puppets.  My dad was born in Mississippi and he loved that style of music and the countryside.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Public Programs


Time’s a Wastin’

Gonna make this a quick one. Time’s a wastin’ and I ain’t got time to waste. I don’t remember if March came in like a lion or a lamb but I do know it has turned into a runaway train fueled by 80 degree temperatures. It’s ridiculously beautiful but equally ridiculously not right. I worry (of course I worry, what else do I have to do?) that the woody plants will start leafing out then in April we’ll have a spell of winter weather. I try to just go with the flow and enjoy the sun and breeze and flowers but cannot completely shake that feeling of being set-up for a horticultural “gotcha!” I’m not concerned about the herbaceous stuff really, it’s the trees and shrubs I fear could be hurt.

And there’s a bit of me that looks around at all the tropicals in my office and thinks – the forecast looks mighty warm, maybe……… you know…… just maybe………. I could throw all of you outside and it would be alright. You would be happier and healthier. Maybe no more of you would die. And those damn fungus gnats would finally be gone!

But that would be ignoring all my experience and education in such matters. I’d be like those people – those people – that throw their houseplants out on the porch way too early. Except I have more than three plants. And it is pretty much eight weeks until our frost-free date.

So today is hurry and plant lettuce, beet, and Swiss chard seed because it is hotter than May and time is wastin’ to get things like that planted. Maybe not at home but we want the plants in the Cutting Garden and the Tanner Orchard looking super prime for National Public Gardens Day on May 11th. We’re going to give visitors some lettuce that day. Not a whole salad so don’t bring a fork with you.

I’m doing Henderson’s Black-seeded Simpson lettuce, Bull’s Blood beet, and both Flamingo Pink and Oriole Orange Swiss chard in the Cutting Garden. These are all from the great Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

They gave us seed to give away on National Public Gardens Day so I like them even more than I did already. Jonathon is doing a slightly different group of cultivars in the Orchard and I’m rushing here so not taking time to get the details from him. But there is absolutely no reason you cannot come out and visit and have a look yourself. You really want to see the Magnolias in bloom and all the daffodils anyway.

What’s that noise? Lands a mercy, it sounds like a runaway train.

Filed under: Horticulture


The Viking Revival and American Design at the Turn-of-the-Century

Local plants and maritime motifs adorned the wares of Marblehead Pottery (1904-1936), a small studio located in the coastal Massachusetts town of the same name. Like many turn-of-the century American pottery firms, Marblehead stressed both the regional and national character of its style through selected subject matter and a palette inspired by the surrounding landscape. Yet, American ceramicists of this period often yielded to foreign influence despite their supposed resistance (see Martin Eidelberg’s “Myths of Style and Nationalism”). This vase (ca. 1910-1920), currently on view in our American galleries, illustrates Marblehead’s assimilation of European imagery. Drawn from medieval Scandinavia, the vase’s pattern consists of five identical Viking longships in a single decorative band. Interestingly, Marblehead’s designers embraced Viking iconography for its patriotic value.

vase; Marblehead Pottery; 1910-1920; Harold Victor Decorative Arts Fund; 1994.81

Viking-inspired motifs adorned the arts and crafts of Scandinavia, particularly Norway and Sweden, in the latter half of the nineteenth-century. This style of ornamentation, called Viking Revival or Dragon Style, developed from a collective enthusiasm for the Icelandic eddas and sagas in the Nordic countries and Great Britain. Studies of this heroic literature began in the seventeenth-century and gained considerable momentum during the nationalistic fervor of the nineteenth-century. Archaeological excavations near the Oslofjord in Norway unearthed the Tune (in 1867), Gokstad (in 1880), and Oseberg (in 1904-05) Viking ships, which further encouraged popular interest in the intrepid seafarers and provided material evidence of their technological advancements as shipwrights.

In America, Nordic studies were stimulated by Rasmus Bjørn Anderson (1846-1936), a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Building on the scholarship of Dane Carl Christian Rafn (1795-1864), Anderson wrote an alternate history of America’s discovery and reminded his audience that Leif Erikson preceded Christopher Columbus by nearly five hundred years. Anderson’s narrative appealed to recent Scandinavian immigrants, as well as long-established residents, who preferred the tale of Leif Erikson’s harmonious arrival to Columbus’ more controversial conquest (see J. M. Mancini’s “Discovering Viking America”). Anderson’s text encouraged others, such as Professor Eben Horsford (1818-1893) of Harvard, to investigate America’s Viking origins. Citing place-names akin to Old Norse and archaeological “discoveries” in the area, Horsford made the dubious assertion that Erikson had settled in the Charles River Basin in Massachusetts, instead of Newfoundland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Art, The Collection


Venice in Indy

For the past three weeks, New York-based dancer Sadie Wilhelmi has been in residence at the IMA training local gymnasts to use Body in Flight (Delta), a sculpture by artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, as a stage for a performance that mixes gymnastics with elements of modern dance. Sadie was the lead female athlete from the exhibition Gloria, which was organized by the IMA and installed at the U.S. Pavilion during the Venice Biennale from June through November, 2011.

Sadie performing the routine during "Gloria" at the U.S. Pavilion in Venice.

Body in Flight (Delta) is currently situated in the IMA’s Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion for an exhibition opening today, and will be on display through April 22. Local gymnasts Taylor Brown, Caitlin Marlow, Kelsie Sexton, and Adrianna Spiteri will conduct ongoing performances in Efroymson for the duration of the exhibition. See the Body in Flight (Delta) exhibition page for further information and a schedule of performances.

USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the representation of American gymnasts at the Olympic Games, is based in Indianapolis and helped recruit gymnasts for this exhibition. Through the organization’s network of athletic clubs, we were able to recruit these talented gymnasts for the exhibition.

First our volunteers started training with Sadie on the prototype for Body in Flight (Delta). The routine was initially developed on this model by choreographer Rebecca Davis, gymnast David Durante, and artists Allora & Calzadilla in collaboration with the four dancers/athletes who performed in Venice (Olga Karmansky, Chellsie Memmel, Rachel Salzman, and Sadie).

Sadie training with Adrianna Spiteri on the model for "Body in Flight (Delta)" in a closed gallery at the IMA.

For the last week, the gymnasts and Sadie have been working in public in the IMA’s entry pavilion to hone their performances on the actual artwork.

Sadie and works with local gymnast Kelsie Sexton to perfect the routine in the Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion.

I hope that you’re able to join us over the course of the exhibition to see local talent showcased in our lobby. If not, you can view the performance as it was filmed in Venice from a far.

Also in the galleries and opening today is Allora & Calzadilla’s Vieques Series, a group of three videos filmed on and about the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Venice Biennale


Like a Virgin

Weather being what it is I am torn in a million directions – mentally and physically. I love it. I hate it. I love it. I hate it. We should not have Zone 7 winters in central Indiana even if our official USDA zone has changed from 5b to 6a.

I’m thinking, what is this weather doing to the plants? I don’t worry too much about the herbaceous stuff, but the woodies could get hammered if it stays too warm then goes back to winter. So far the woodies have shown remarkable restraint on bud development but two days out of three at near 70 degrees this week could cause some to go “Woo Hoo! I’m bustin’ outta this winter dormancy!” Please don’t do that Mr. Tree. But then again, nothing may come of it. Lots of 40s in that long range forecast. And you all know weather forecasts are never wrong.

On the physical side of gardening (much easier than the mental side) it’s high time to get many things cut back and this weather is making it easy to do so. Hellebores are more than ready at this point, of course. You now have to look closely when removing old foliage so you don’t cut off the flowers too. The thing is, the foliage looks great this year. Nothing like a zone 7 winter to make the foliage of evergreen perennials look great. Here’s one of mine at home.

It’s a selection from the fabulous Dick and Judith Tyler of Pine Knot Farms, personally chosen for me by the equally fabulous C. Colston Burrell.

As I said, the foliage looked great but I cut it off anyway to help showcase the blooms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Horticulture


Recent Flickrs

College Night: What do Museums Need Most?College Night: What do Museums Need Most?College Night: What do Museums Need Most?College Night: What do Museums Need Most?College Night: What do Museums Need Most?College Night: What do Museums Need Most?