Mourning the Loss of Jane Henson: Artist, Creative Genius and UMD Alumna


The University of Maryland is saddened by the news that alumna and world-celebrated puppeteer Jane Henson died Tuesday at her home in Connecticut at the age of 78 following a battle with cancer.  Ms. Henson was the widow of puppeteer Jim Henson.

Born Jane Ann Nebel, she and Jim Henson met as freshmen at a University of Maryland (UMD) puppetry class during the mid-1950s.  They began working together on the live 1950s television show Sam and Friends, where Jane collaborated with Jim in performing the Muppets and devising several of the show's technical innovations, including the use of television monitors to watch their performances in real time. 

In the late 1950s, while Jim traveled extensively researching European puppeteers, Jane remained in the US to run Sam and Friends.  The pair went on to create the beloved Muppet characters known for their absurdist and self-referential humor. 

In 1996, Jane established The Jim Henson Fund for Puppetry to foster interest in and encourage student work in the art of puppetry and in 2002 she established The Henson Endowment for Performing Arts which supports Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center programs related to puppetry.

Jane Henson also partnered with the UMD School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies in creating the Jim Henson Artist-in-Residence program in 2006, which brought internationally acclaimed puppetry artists to the school for in-depth residencies and production activities.  She generously provided the funding for this interdisciplinary program and advised on selection of artists, which included Basil Twist, Blair Thomas, Ralph Lee and the Mettawee River Theatre Company and Chinese Theatre Works’ Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin.

The Jane Henson Foundation and The Jim Henson Legacy have also generously donated videos and funding to UMD to support the creation of what is now known as The Jim Henson Works. This collection includes over 70 digital videos spanning 35 years of Jim and Jane Henson’s groundbreaking work in television and film. These full-length videos can be viewed at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, McKeldin Library and Hornbake Library.

Jane was a member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority and lived in the sorority house while at the University of Maryland.  She and Jim Henson married in 1959 and had five children, separating in 1986, shortly before Jim Henson’s death in 1990.  The University of Maryland community mourns the loss of this creative genius.