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Jim Henson’s Legacy: A “Rainbow Connection” with UMD
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Image by Merrill College of Journalism Press Releases
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Flexible, felt-covered puppets don’t sound like the makings of a groundbreaking career. Yet as only a sophomore at Maryland, Jim Henson premiered a TV show starring a motley cast of them-and earned his first Emmy before graduation.

Henson ’60 grew his early vision of silly songs, dances and gentle joking on "Sam and Friends" into the educational and entertainment Muppets empire. As what would have been Henson’s 75th birthday (Sept. 24) approaches, his creative legacy of "Sesame Street," Muppet movies and more is still firmly rooted at the University of Maryland.

The university houses the Jim Henson Works, a compilation of more than 70 digital videos of his most memorable contributions to film and television, as well as the Jim Henson Artist in Residence in the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, and the Jim Henson statue outside the Stamp Student Union. More importantly, it continues to foster in students Henson’s spirit of imagination and innovation.

"Jim Henson will always be an inspiration to students at the University of Maryland," said President Wallace Loh. "It takes talent as well as creativity to make a bunch of puppets-maybe I should say Muppets-into household names around the world. It takes skill as well as ingenuity to enable children to learn while entertaining them, and to enable grown-ups to enjoy themselves by becoming children again."

Challenging Convention
Henson grew up in the early1950s, as the new world of television brought puppets into people’s homes, through "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "Howdy Doody" and "Captain Kangaroo."
He was already deeply involved in puppetry before graduating in 1954 from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, just a stone’s throw from the University of Maryland. With his future wife, Jane Nebel ’55, he took his first puppetry class at UMD as a freshman and together they launched "Sam and Friends" on WRC, Washington’s NBC affiliate.

"I can guarantee you people back then told him working with puppets was a bad idea," said Asher Epstein, who directs the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. "As every entrepreneur knows, if you don’t get enough criticism, you’re probably headed in the wrong direction. He followed a path where he pursued his passion and really did something that was meaningful to him. "

Henson revolutionized puppetry, melding hand puppets with marionettes. Instead of presenting a puppet show on a stage, he brought in the camera much closer to simulate a more natural environment-and to keep the puppeteer off-camera. He used rods, not strings, to give the foam rubber characters he invented more lifelike movement. Then he gave Kermit, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and their friends unique personalities. Their messages, whether about sharing, telling the truth or learning the alphabet, were conveyed with humor. An episode of "Sesame Street" featuring Robert De Niro or Rachael Ray speaks to children and adults on different levels that both enjoy.

Maryland Moments
The University of Maryland has celebrated Henson and his Muppets over the years with major events like "The Muppets Take Maryland" in 1997, and that iconic class gift of a statue of Henson and Kermit in a memorial garden outside the Stamp. The statue, by sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter, is one of the most popular sites on campus. Terps who marry at the Memorial Chapel often have their picture taken sitting on the bench with the two stars, as do visitors on Maryland Day and graduates and their families during commencement.

"Jim Henson is easily one of the most recognizable of our noted alumni," said Assistant University Archivist Jason Speck. "The spirit of his work lives on in the creativity and joy exhibited in the work of every Maryland student. Keeping his memory alive lets every student know that ‘big’ ideas have long been a campus tradition, much like the fight song or Testudo. With the university serving as a home to ever more talented students, it will continue to be a place of ‘big’ ideas for years to come."
Over at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, Maryland students take advantage of the Jim Henson Works collection of videos to see what’s possible with foam, rods and a little imagination. As curator Vince Novara said, "The point of The Jim Henson Works is to demonstrate to our students that puppetry can embrace many forms of expression in the performing arts: acting, singing, moving and visually presenting ideas."

Honoring the Power of a Terp
Henson died in 1990, but his influence on family entertainment continues to grow. A new Muppet movie from Disney. "Green with Envy," is set for release Nov. 23. "Sesame Street," now owned by Sesame Workshop, is in its 42nd season, while the Jim Henson Company produces other popular kids’ shows including "Sid the Science Kid" and "Dinosaur Train." The company, owned and operated by Henson’s five adult children, also has a successful "Creature Shop," recording studio and an alternative/live puppet show division. Henson Legacy President Cheryl Henson told CNN recently that two new preschool programs are coming soon, and the company is developing new programs for tweens and adults.

Here at the University of Maryland, Jim Henson’s legacy remains a force 75 years after his birth, providing inspiration and an entrepreneurial spirit. "I am so proud that Jim Henson began his extraordinary career while a student at the University of Maryland," President Loh said. "He showed the power of a Terp with an idea and a vision. He showed the power of innovation and entrepreneurship. And he showed while ‘it’s not easy being green,’ it helps if you are also red and white, and black and gold."

Henson Birthday Celebration
The University of Maryland is celebrating the 75th birthday of Jim Henson with several activities:

Henson Birthday Celebration Friday, Sept, 23 from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Stamp Student Union-including 150 green cupcakes!

Web series highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at Maryland;

Special announcement during the Temple-Maryland football game Sept. 24;

Special screening of the new Muppet movie, "Green with Envy," in the Hoff Theater in mid-November.

Helen Keller
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Image by dbking
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was a deafblind American author, activist and lecturer.

Keller was born at an estate called Ivy Green in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880, to parents Captain Arthur H. Keller and Kate Adams Keller. She was not born blind and deaf; it was not until nineteen months of age that she came down with an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which could have possibly been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. By age seven she had invented over sixty different signs that she could use to communicate with her family.

In 1886, her mother Kate Keller was inspired by an account in Charles Dickens’ American Notes of the successful education of another deaf/blind child, Laura Bridgman, and travelled to a specialist doctor in Baltimore for advice. He put her in touch with local expert Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised the couple to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston, Boston, Massachusetts. The school delegated teacher and former student, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and then only 20 years old, to become Helen’s teacher. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship.

At age 7, Sullivan got permission from Helen’s father to isolate the girl from the rest of the family in a little house in their garden. Her first task was to instill discipline in the spoiled girl. Helen’s big breakthrough in communication came one day when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on her palm, while running cool water over her palm from a pump, symbolized the idea of "water"; she then nearly exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar objects in her world (including her prized doll).

In 1890, ten-year-old Helen Keller was introduced to the story of Ragnhild Kåta – a deafblind Norwegian girl who had learned to speak. Ragnhild Kåta’s success inspired Helen – she wanted to learn to speak as well. Anne was able to teach Helen to speak using the Tadoma method (touching the lips and throat of others as they speak) combined with "fingerspelling" alphabetical characters on the palm of Helen’s hand. Later, Keller would also learn to read English, French, German, Greek, and Latin in Braille.

In 1888, Helen attended the Perkins School for the Blind. In 1894, Helen and Anne moved to New York City to attend the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf. In 1898 they returned to Massachusetts and Helen entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies before gaining admittance, in 1900, to Radcliffe College. In 1904 at the age of 24, Helen graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude, becoming the first deaf and blind person to graduate from a college.

Helen went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for the handicapped, as well as numerous causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she founded Helen Keller International, a non-profit organization for preventing blindness. Helen and Anne Sullivan traveled all over the world to over 39 countries, and made several trips to Japan, becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Helen Keller met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain.

Helen Keller was a member of the Socialist Party and actively campaigned and wrote in support of the working classes from 1909 to 1921. She supported Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs in each of his campaigns for the presidency. Her political views were reinforced by visiting workers. In her words, "I have visited sweatshops, factories, crowded slums. If I could not see it, I could smell it."

Newspaper columnists who had praised her courage and intelligence before she came out as a socialist now called attention to her disabilities. The editor of the Brooklyn Eagle wrote that her "mistakes sprung out of the manifest limitations of her development." Keller responded to that editor, referring to having met him before he knew of her political views:

"At that time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him…Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent."

Helen Keller also joined the famous labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in 1912 after she felt that parliamentary socialism was "sinking in the political bog." Helen Keller wrote for the IWW between 1916 and 1918. In "Why I Became an IWW," Helen wrote that her motivation for activism came in part due to her concern about blindness and other disabilities:

"I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness."

When Keller visited Akita Prefecture in Japan in July 1937, she inquired about Hachiko, the famed Akita dog that had died in 1935. She expressed to a local that she would like to have an Akita dog. An Akita called Kamikaze-go was given to her within a month. When Kamikaze-go later died (at a young age) because of canine distemper, his older brother, Kenzan-go, was presented to her as an official gift from the Japanese government in July 1939.

Keller is credited with having introduced the Akita to America through Kamikaze-go and his successor, Kenzan-go. By 1938 a breed standard had been established and dog shows had been held, but such activities stopped after World War II began.

Keller wrote in the Akita Journal:

"If ever there was an angel in fur, it was Kamikaze. I know I shall never feel quite the same tenderness for any other pet. The Akita dog has all the qualities that appeal to me — he is gentle, companionable and trusty."

Her book Light in my Darkness was published in which she advocated the teachings of the Swedish scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg. She also wrote a lengthy autobiography called The Story of My Life published in 1903. She wrote a total of eleven books, and authored numerous articles.

On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Helen Keller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States’ top two highest civilian honors.

Keller devoted much of her later life to raise funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. She died in 1968, passing away 26 days before her 88th birthday, in her Easton, Connecticut home.

In 2003, the state of Alabama honored Keller — a native of the state — on its state quarter. The Helen Keller Hospital is also dedicated to her.

A silent film, Deliverance (not to be mistaken for the other, much later and more famous movie Deliverance which is unrelated to Keller) first told Keller’s story. The Miracle Worker, a play about how Helen Keller learned to communicate, was made into a movie three times. The 1962 version of the movie won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Anne Bancroft who played Sullivan and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Patty Duke who played Keller. It also became a 1979 TV movie, this time with Patty Duke playing Anne Sullivan and Melissa Gilbert playing Helen Keller , as well as a 2000 TV movie.

The 1984 TV movie about Helen Keller’s life is The Miracle Continues. This semi-sequel to The Miracle Worker recounts her college years and her early adult life. None of the early movies hint at the social activism that would become the hallmark of Helen’s later life, although the The Walt Disney Company version produced in 2000 states in the credits that Helen became an activist for social equality.

The Hindi movie Black released in 2005 was largely based on Keller’s story, from her childhood to her graduation.

A new documentary Shining Soul: Helen Keller’s Spiritual Life and Legacy was produced and recently released by The Swedenborg Foundation (2005). The film focuses on the role played by Emanuel Swedenborg’s spiritual theology in her life and how it inspired Keller’s triumph over her triple disabilities of blindness, deafness and a severe speech impediment.

Pataphysical Time
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Image by fabola
We spent another magnificent afternoon at Pataphysical Studios this Saturday, making art together … and playing at the edges of time.

Our visitors this week were Jim Neidhardt (now Dr. Neidhardt) and his lovely wife Denise (Dr. Now?), longtime friends of Drs. Rindbrain, Skidz and the Queen of the Desert. Jim showed us the ‘hypno-disks’ he is working on to create experiences like this surreal Duchamp film, Anemic Cinema:

We had a great conversation and I knew they were like-minded folks when Dr. Neidhardt and I both exclaimed at the same time the same exact phrase: “Life IS Change!”. Jim is interested in contributing to our madcap art adventure, so stay tuned. Learn more about his work at:

Throughout the day, we brainstormed more ideas for our new Time Machine, while working on sundry maker art projects:
• Dr. Rindbrain and Canard put the finishing touches on their music box
• Drs. Figurine and Heatshrink prepared to assemble a theremin together
• Dr. Fabio drew a first sketch of what a time controller might look like
• Dr. Igor and Heatshrink both gave Dr. Figurine nice gifts for her birthday
• Dr. Tout de Suite considered lighting up her goggles, chose to paint instead
• Dr. Zboon discussed time travel and made a birthday card for his friend Ernesto
• Dr. Canard created a colorful zen map, inviting other doctors to art it up
• Dr. Rindbrain added more rainbow-colored lights to the Time Machine framework

It was great to stretch out to the edges of time and back again in the company of my friends.

Fire in the hole!

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