Trying to get Melissa Nasby and Nikki Webber to speak slowly is like asking a tornado to stop spinning.
The excitement is palpable as the women tell of their recent trip to New York, where they met and cuddled with Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus and late Muppet creator Jim Henson’s daughter Cheryl.
The artists were in New York at the invitation of the Jim Henson Foundation after earning a top-10 honourable mention in a worldwide Dark Crystal character contest.
It was community generosity that allowed them to make the trip on short notice.
After learning about their win in September, the artists began fundraising and were delighted to receive a $1,000 grant from the Shuswap Community Foundation on behalf of the Arts Council and $2,300 on Nasby’s SoulFibre website.
“We are absolutely grateful and overwhelmed with their support; we couldn’t have done it without them,” Nasby says.
The artists also waxed poetical about a WestJet agent who spent hours ensuring that Nim, their prize-winning puppet creation, made the return trip safely.
Nim remained with the women until the flight was about to depart and then snugged securely in the baggage area, only to be returned to them when the plane landed.
It was in the airports that the pandemonium began.
“We had multiple connections and visited quite a few different airports and she caused a stir in every one of them,” says Webber.
“She rocked every stranger in the airports and we handed out more business cards than ever before,” laughs Nasby. “Pilots, customs agents, everyone was smiling at her… They wanted to look at us on Facebook; this is customs agents – it’s hilarious.”
The women were unprepared for and amazed by the joy Nim created and thrilled by the number of friendly and curious people who approached them.
Excitement escalated when Nasby and Webber entered a nondescript building in Queens, made their way up the elevator and were greeted by Cheryl Henson, president of the Jim Henson Foundation.
“This lovely, kind, sincere, absolutely wonderful woman welcomed us to the Jim Henson workshop,” raves Webber.
“And there to greet us is Snuffleupagus. He is so big!”
“And so soft,” squeals Nasby.
Henson led the women on a tour of the workshop where Muppet magic is created, meeting some of the Emmy Award-winning puppet builders and seeing all the amazing puppets they had grown up with.
“There are lifetime employees, who have been there since Jim Henson, 10-time Emmy winners,” says Nasby. “We could really get a sense of what Jim Henson was like because his personality, his values, shone through everybody. You could see it in the whole culture of the company.”
After racing back to their hotel to pick up Nim, the women returned to BAMcinématek at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the evening gala and showing of The Dark Crystal.
They were first in line for a book-signing by Brian and Wendy Froud whom Nasby calls the god and goddess of the whimsical world.
“They were so impressed, they signed Nim’s actual display case,” says Webber with a touch of wonder. “Cheryl Henson also signed Nim’s case before the event began and everyone was thrilled to meet her.”
Adds Nasby, “Out of all the people in the creature contest, we were the only ones to bring ours.”
So, not only were Webber and Nasby called to the stage for acknowledgment of their honourable mention, they were able to introduce Nim to a sold-out audience of some 400 to 500 people, who had come to see The Dark Crystal.
“Both Cheryl and Wendy said what they loved about Nim, and Nikki got to say how Nim came to be,” says Nasby. “I told them how she was made – they hadn’t seen needle-felting before on a puppet. That was extraordinary on its own.”
The number of people who wanted to meet Nim and get business cards was also a delightful surprise.
The evening was capped off by triumph at the invitation-only reception attended by “an outstanding number of elite in the puppet world.”
The women intended to put Nim on display in the back corner of the room.
But they hadn’t even made it into the room, when Kathy Mullen, a master puppeteer, who had worked with Jim Henson and whose puppet had the female lead in The Dark Crystal, surprised them again.
“She was so enthralled with Nim and asked us if she could see her closer,” says Webber. “She asked if she could puppet her and absolutely brought her to life and mesmerized the whole room.”
“That was the climax, the pure magic; she commanded attention and stole the whole night,” says an excited Nasby. “For Nikki and I to go to New York City and wow them was mind-blowing. I never dreamt it was possible.”
The artists are still absorbing and enjoying their New York moment and the fact they were in the top 10 of 153 entries worldwide.
They don’t think it will be too long before they collaborate on some other spectacular project.
“This will alter our focus,” says Nasby. “We have discovered this is something beyond selling, it’s the impact puppets have. It’s about the connection with people, the laughs and giggles, she brought joy to everyone who laid eyes on her.”