11/8-11/1971 – ‘Go to Chicago to Silvestri. See flocking’

In the 1960s, Jim’s innovative use of fleece-covered foam for his puppets captured light well, enhancing the way they looked on television. His discovery, in the early 1970s, of the effectiveness of flocked foam on the screen started his builders (Don Sahlin, Bonnie Erickson, Caroly Wilcox and John Lovelady) in a new direction. Now Jim’s puppets could be fleece covered, fur covered or flocked, providing greater variety in their appearance. The flocked surface worked for a wide range of expressive faces and is largely responsible for the soft, glamorous love affair between the flock-covered Miss Piggy and the camera.

In the spring of 1971, Jim took his team up to Middletown, NY to see Otto Heinbach at his DeKor Flocking Company. Jim acquired a flocking machine, and they started experimenting with it, covering pieces of carved foam with flocking glue and sending an electric charge through them to attract the tiny fibers that would create a soft surface. The first flocked puppet was a drummer/maestro character created by Erickson for Jim’s live appearance with Nancy Sinatra in Las Vegas that summer. Continuing his research into the method, Jim flew out to Chicago that November to look at the flocked figures created by the Silvestri Art Company, known for extravagant holiday displays in department stores and other public places. By the start of the new year, Jim’s team was making flocked heads for his Muppet Musicians of Bremen special and in the fall, the Country Trio (caricature puppets of Jim, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson) all appeared with flocked faces. As John Lovelady wrote in a letter to Otto Heinbach in 1973, “We have had a delightful time with your machine!”

Jim’s sketch of the flocked drummer puppet for the Nancy Sinatra stage show in Las Vegas, 1971.

Bonnie Erickson and Caroly Wilcox flocking hands for The Muppet Musicians of Bremen, 1972. Photo courtesy of Bonnie Erickson

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