John Paul Henson of Hill St. died Friday, Feb. 14 at Kingston City Hospital after suffering a massive heart attack at his home in Saugerties. He was 48.
The son of the late Jane Nebel Henson (1934-2013) and Jim Henson (1936-1990) was born on April 25, 1965 in Greenwich, Conn. When John was age seven, the family moved to Bedford, New York. According to Brian Jay Jones’s 2013 biography of John’s father, Muppets creator Jim Henson, John said that as a child, he’d been “a strange kid with an endless energy.” He told Jones, “If you look at the old home movies, everyone’s around and every once in a while you’d see this little blond blur just careen through the frame; that was me. I was just always going – and the faster the better.”
The biographer penned a posthumous tribute to John Henson on his website this week, writing that when he’d met with John in Saugerties to interview him for the book he was writing about Jim Henson, he’d found John to be “a really beautiful guy.” Jones wrote about Henson’s passion for renovating, restoring and redesigning buildings, remembering the afternoon they’d spent together driving around Saugerties looking at the various properties; how everything was a creative work in progress and all so beautifully designed and made with extraordinary attention to detail.
“He proudly gave me a tour of his home – a renovated early 1900s schoolhouse, complete with a ringing bell in the cupola on the roof,” Jones writes. “Again, everything was interesting to look at, and not a spare square foot had been wasted… It was whimsical and wonderful, and very much John’s own unique sense of space and design.”
Henson purchased the schoolhouse back in 1981 when he moved to Saugerties at age 16. He began working on the property back then, with the assistance of Saugertesian John Kahn, an artist and family friend who’d done technical work for the various Muppets productions. The skills that Henson learned in the process led him to a lifetime of buying properties in Saugerties and transforming each of them into unique individual creations.
The Henson family released a statement describing each of his buildings as a work of art; “an immersive experience balancing function with artistic expression.” Alex Wade, currently in charge of special projects for the village of Saugerties and formerly its building inspector, says he knew Henson from his extensive building projects. “He was quite an artist,” said Wade. “He loved old buildings and he loved construction. He was doing an amazing restoration on the old Dale Sanatorium property on the river; the mansion – a very prominent building from the Henry Barclay era – needed a lot of cosmetic repairs, and the property has numerous barns and orchards that John was working on.”
Wade, too, noted Henson’s attention to detail on his building projects, saying that he went to extremes to get everything just the way he wanted it. “If he did something and then didn’t like it, he tore it out and did it over again.” Henson was a major preservationist in some ways, Wade said, making something look just as it did originally, “or in some cases he took artistic license and made it look better.” Wade said that Henson tended to jump back and forth from project to project, working on many buildings simultaneously for years at a time.