Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

“It’s Time to Light the Lights”—Spotlight on Bonnie Erickson


The Muppet Show Board Game of the Stars, Parker Brothers, 1979

It’s quite likely that you’re already familiar with the creations of artist and designer Bonnie Erickson. If you’ve ever watched or played with the Muppets or if you’ve memorized all of the North American professional sports mascots, then you’ve already admired Erickson’s handiwork. She is best known for creating the iconic Muppet characters Miss Piggy, Statler, and Waldorf, as well as professional league mascots Phillie Phanatic (MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies) and Youppi! (currently with the NHL’s Montréal Canadiens), among others.

In 1970, Bonnie Erickson joined Jim Henson’s Muppet workshop as a costume designer. Within a few years, she had already designed and built several new Muppet characters, including Miss Piggy. Erickson and her husband Wayde Harrison launched their own production, design, and marketing company called Harrison/Erickson, Inc. in 1977. Together, Harrison and Erickson created characters for commercials, theater, and sports mascots. Erickson continued to consult on projects for the Jim Henson Company and Children’s Television Workshop (later, Sesame Workshop). She also developed toy and other product design concepts for licensed brands, such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

Plaster prototype of Miss Piggy vase, about 1978

Two years after the passing of Jim Henson, his widow Jane and several of Jim’s colleagues (Arthur Novell, Albert Gottesman, and Richard Wedemeyer) formed The Jim Henson Legacy. This organization dedicated itself to preserving and perpetuating Henson’s contributions to the worlds of puppetry, television, motion pictures, special effects, and media technology. Erickson joined the foundation as a trustee, and later, president; she also served as the executive director of the organization from 2010-2014. In 2016, Erickson coordinated a large donation which established the Jim Henson Collection here at The Strong (a portion of which was exhibited for thousands of museum visitors to enjoy).

Pages from Sesame Street style guide, “Character Book featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets,” 1979.

Erickson has also generously contributed a variety of materials from her own celebrated career to The Strong. The Strong’s archives house the Bonnie Erickson papers, a compilation of design concepts, illustrations, style guides, product tear sheets, catalog pages, notes, publicity, and other information relating to licensed products created by Erickson. The museum’s object collections include prototypes and production copies of her dolls, figurines, clothing, and collectibles. These materials encompass not only the Muppets and Sesame Street stars, but also characters from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and other original creations (such as a Bette Midler mermaid doll!). Viewing Erickson’s papers and prototypes together is a great way to learn about the toy design process from start to finish. Next time you catch a glimpse of Miss Piggy (or the Phillie Phanatic) on television, take a minute to think about the woman behind these distinctive characters—her own career deserves some time in the spotlight!  


Puppets Stage a Big Showing in the National Toy Hall of Fame

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Super Soaker Joins National Toy Hall of Fame

The National Toy Hall of Fame is awash in good news these days. On November 5, 2015, The Strong announced that Super Soaker—along with puppets and the game Twister—joined the 56 classic toys in the hall of fame. Kids had water toys before the Super Soaker debuted in 1990, but the drenching machine altered the ways they played outdoors.

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Random Knowledge: Brain Games

“All right, play time is over; it’s time to get your head in the game,” my friend Lauren sternly implores our team. We’ve been through six rounds. By our calculations, we must only be behind our chief rivals by a few points. Our highly competitive team has its regular starting line-up this week, and we haven’t sustained any major injuries (yet). This isn’t an outdoor team sport or your ordinary parlor game, however—this is serious business. This is weekly pub trivia. For as long as I can remember, I liked collecting facts.

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Work vs. Play: Do I Even Call This Work?

An interesting dynamic exists between work and play. In my last blog, I discussed how domestic chores can be play. The work versus play issue came to mind recently since so much of what I do in my current job is playing (just don’t tell my boss that). When it comes to a career, I never thought I would be someone who liked their job. It was called work for a reason.

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ICHEG, the RPO, and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

As a child, I always enjoyed playing video games, but I never paid too much attention to the musical accompaniment in the background. It wasn’t until college that I first heard gaming music on its own. Prior to that, I simply enjoyed the music as background noise for games, or as musical cues that prompted me to “jump” or dodge an enemy.

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The Williams Pinball Playfield Design Collection

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Reader Beware—You’re in for a Scare!

Childhood is sometimes punctuated with brief but potent moments of blinding fear. Children often have imaginations that run amok and dark, isolated places are perceived as settings of unspeakable horrors that must be avoided at all costs. Kids can convince themselves (and some of us, even as adults, are still convinced) that horrible creatures await in the basement to snatch an unsuspecting victim; that vengeful ghosts haunt dark hallways; and hideous monsters hide under the bed, preparing to grab the next set of feet that come too close.

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Let There Be Light

What do you get when you take a grand Victorian mansion, all of its ornately detailed furnishings, wallpaper, wooden flooring, and inhabitants (including pets!), and shrink them down to 1/12 their natural size? Well, a dollhouse, of course!

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Go Greyhound!

From my childhood, I seem to recall an early TV advertising ditty that ended with: “Lucky us in a Greyhound bus!” Growing up in a village too small for Greyhound service, my introduction to the transportation line came from ads in magazines, newspapers, and television and from glimpses of Greyhound buses in movies, songs, and popular culture.

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Paul Sams Collection Showcases Influence and History of Blizzard Entertainment

Paul Sams, former Chief Operating Officer at the American video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment, has donated a collection that traces the history of the company and highlights the importance of its games.

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