As the late Jim Henson’s birthday approaches — the beloved puppeteer, animator and filmmaker behind The Muppets would have been 86 on Sept. 24 — one local multimedia artist is honoring one of the greatest imaginations of all time in a very Philly way.
Richard Wexler, who happens to have the same birthday as Henson, is an esteemed video artist, photographer and puppeteer who, for decades, has operated through projects such as the Found Footage Festival and events for local DJs and bands. To put it simply, Wexler “has lived and continues to live based on the teachings of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog.”
The Philadelphia artist also owns and maintains the Vintage Annals Archive, a renowned website and Instagram hub for avid collectors of old photos, films and like-minded oddities. While Wexler is a collector and curator of such rare fare, so too are Vintage Annals Archive visitors such as David Arquette, Amy Sedaris, Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and Neko Case, along with those who worked with Henson’s Sesame Workshop and acted as his puppeteers throughout his lengthy career.
On their shared birthday, Saturday, Sept. 24, starting at 9 a.m., the Vintage Annals Archive site will host a live Zoom event featuring discussions, video clips and puppeteering displays of “all things Muppets and Henson,” says Wexler, excitably mentioning the participation of many artists and puppeteers who continue to work on Jim Henson Studio projects.
“We’ll play many viewers favorite Henson/Muppets sketches, provide brief histories and interviews with all of the guests, including David Arquette, who appeared in ‘Muppets in Space’, and many puppeteers such as Joe Hennes (from the Muppet Workshop), Pam Severns (a Jim Henson Foundation Grantee) and artist Guy Gilchrist (from Jim Henson’s Muppet Comic Strip),” notes Wexler. “We’ll be here to celebrate Jim Henson’s birthday, life and work. But also, this will include my own, personal story – all of the influence that the Muppets and Henson had over me which led to my becoming a puppeteer, to me producing local versions of puppet events such as Broadway’s ‘Avenue Q’ as a high school musical, and my time meeting another hero, Frank Oz, one of Henson’s principal collaborators.”
Vintage Annals Archive Instagram currently has 19,500 followers posting quirkily aged images from 1920’s through 1999, with a soon-to-start podcast planned. “We are trying to build a community around the site and our commonalities by offering fan experiences like the Muppet Day event and trying to bring people together online and in-person,” says Wexler. The website also functions as an archive and has scanned images of most of Wexler’s physical archive, as does its Instagram, with over 14,000 posted images across 11 years.
“I run the Instagram with things I learned from Jim, like being kind to everyone, and mindful of who everybody is, and how special they all are,” says Wexler. “As I always pursued my dreams as taught by Jim, one of my dreams has always been to collect and present images of the past. My life was changed when, in 1979, I saw Henson’s ‘The Muppet Movie’. I found out I shared the same birthday with Jim when I was 21 and it blew my mind. I have been lived my life ever since to make sure that all of my dreams come true and to keep making rainbow connections.”