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!  



GIFT SHOP. Those two words might strike fear into the hearts of museum-going parents, but for children who have been bribed into good behavior, it is a beacon. Don’t disappear, don’t have a tantrum, don’t break anything—you may be rewarded with something from the museum’s gift shop. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where we had a treasure trove of museums to frequent.

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Installing Ralph Baer's Desk at The Strong

Museums have long memorialized genius. While art museums preserve great paintings and sculptures, history museums collect and preserve a wide-ranging record of the ways individuals, groups, and companies have shaped our society.

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From Italy to Rochester, Looking for the Meaning of Play

In November 2015, I came from my home in Turin, Italy, to spend a month at The Strong museum working on my research project, “The Meaning of Toys: Creating and Conveying Knowledge through Playful Artifacts.” I was honored to be granted a  Strong Research Fellowship that financed the first half of my stay.

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Playmobil Play Sets

In my previous blog titled I’d Like to Thank All the Little People, I described the profound impact that Fisher-Price’s Play Family had on my preschool years in the early 1970s.

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Nancy Drew and the Case of the Girl Gamers

Recently, debates about women and video games have been making the rounds. The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Colbert Report, for instance, have drawn attention to what it can be like for women in gaming communities.

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Sid Sackson: Game Player and Designer

The Strong not only collects playthings, but also acquires significant material related to the invention, manufacture, and use of those playthings. One of the museum’s treasures is the collection of games, game prototypes, and archives from noted American game inventor and historian, Sid Sackson. Sackson (1920–2002) is revered among inventors, collectors, and serious players for his lifelong dedication to games and the gaming world.

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The 2016 Class for the World Video Game Hall of Fame

Anyone interested in the evolution of video games can learn a great deal by simply examining the history of the six newest inductees into The Strong’s World Video Game Hall of Fame: The Oregon Trail, Space Invaders, The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Sims, and Grand Theft Auto III.

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Game Night!

It’s game night and my friends are gathered in my dining room. Four of them are face-down in a plateful of whipped cream, with their hands tied behind their backs, desperately trying to find snack-size candy bars hidden underneath. The rest of the group are laughing raucously, cheering their partners on. The goal of the first group to find and eat all five hidden snack-size candy bars is well on its way, and it looks like it’s coming down between my friend, James, and my wife, Kaytlyn.

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Light Up the Night with Mega Man Rock

I have a confession to make. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m hoping readers will understand. I’m 34 years old, and just recently, I attended my first rock concert. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering my profession, this concert consisted of a hard rock opera based on the 1980s video game series Mega Man.

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When the Old Becomes New—Timeless Toy Designs

“Hey! I had one of those growing up!” is a frequent statement we hear from guests roaming through The Strong. With such a large and diverse collection on display, everyone young and old can discover personal treasures behind the glass cases. The nostalgia of smiling childhood memories brings joy, as toy companies have discovered.

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