COLLEGE PARK – Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog appear locked in conversation, perhaps discussing Kermit’s rocky relationship with Miss Piggy.
The duo, cast in 450 pounds of bronze, sit on a bench at the University of Maryland — the latest tribute to Henson, a Maryland alumnus and creator of the Muppets, whose characters have been enjoyed by audiences around the world.
The statue and a memorial garden were dedicated Wednesday as Henson’s family joined several hundred students and officials to celebrate the film and television puppeteer, who died in 1990.
Before the ceremony — which featured a giant inflatable Kermit and the singing group “Colours” from Northwestern High School — Henson’s wife, Jane, remembered the old days with NBC’s Willard Scott, who was master of ceremonies for the event.
Scott said he knew the couple when they were students at the University of Maryland and worked with Henson on early NBC shows. “I never saw Jim when he wasn’t wearing a long plaid shirt,” Scott said, laughing.
During the ceremony, Henson said her husband “expressed his joy with life through his puppets.” She said the Adele H. Stamp Student Union was a “fitting place” for the memorial because Henson had designed poster art there as an undergraduate.
Wednesday’s dedication was scheduled to coincide with Henson’s birthday; he would have been 67.
The idea for a Henson statute came from the Maryland class of 1998, whose members wanted to remember Henson with a gift for the important influence he had over children’s lives. The classes of 1994 and ’99 later joined in on the $217,000 project, along with the university and the student union, according to university spokesman Dave Ottalini.
Project backers selected sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter in a national design competition in December 2000. Carpenter was a sculptor for the Washington National Cathedral, creating more than 500 sculptures of gargoyles, saints and angels.
Fans of Henson’s Muppets — people like Lawrence E. Mintz, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and director of the Art Gliner Center for Humor Studies — have described the characters as edgy but fun.
“What Henson gave the Muppets was a sweetened sharpness,” Mintz said in an e-mail interview before the ceremony. “The Muppets could be a little tougher, more cynical, sarcastic, combative, but without being mean or nasty.
“I don’t know of any children’s show per se that was as funny as the Muppets.”
Henson got his start in television in the 1950s, performing with puppets on Washington’s WTOP-TV while he was attending Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. He worked for an NBC affiliate, WRC-TV, while in college.
His twice-daily five-minute NBC show, “Sam and Friends,” which he performed with fellow student and future wife Jane Nebel, featured an early version of Kermit the Frog, the famous Muppet character that helped propel Henson and his creations to television fame in the 1970s.
Audiences in more than 100 countries watched “The Muppet Show” from 1976 until 1981.
Henson also worked on Muppet feature films and on early “Sesame Street” shows, creating characters such as Cookie Monster and Big Bird, as well as other non-Muppet movie projects.
Other area events are scheduled to remember Henson. The American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring is holding a tribute to Henson at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, and is planning a month-long Muppet movie festival.
The university is currently exhibiting Henson’s artwork at Hornbake Library.