@DisneyMemories Mary Blair, Modern Art Meets Animation

October 26, 2011

Some text below from Disney Gallery exhibit (open for a limited time only) at Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.

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One of the most impressive talents to emerge from the Walt Disney Studios in the mid 20th century, Mary Blair (1911-1978) was both fearless and untraditional when it came to styling and concept art. Her modern art which infused whimsy into Disney feature animation has been appearing everywhere recently in the form of tributes and celebration for her 100th birthday: a recent Google Doodle, a Walt Disney Family Museum exhibit, a Marc Davis series event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences http://www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2011/20110929a.html, and a lovely Disneyland galley exhibit.

In 1940 Mary Robinson Blair joined the Walt Disney Studios as a concept artist. She had studied at Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles where she studied with renowned artists and met her future husband, artist Lee Blair. In 1941 she was part of the group of Disney artists who joined Walt Disney to visit nations in Latin America for a series of films with South American themes. http://www.waltandelgrupo.com/

Noted author and historian J.B. Kaufman chronicles this unique period of Disney history in his excellent, South of the Border With Disney: Walt Disney and the Good Neighbor Program, 1941-1948 (2009). This evening (October 25, 2011), Kaufman was a featured speaker at the Walt Disney Family Museum @WDFMuseum in San Francisco as part of the South of the Border weekend. Kaufman is as gracious and affable a person as he is a brilliant writer and I’m sorry to have missed this California appearance.


Impressed by her brilliant colors and stunning abstract imagery, Walt Disney asked Blair to serve as Art Supervisor on Saludos Amigos (1943). This film helped usher in a new era in Disney color and visual styling, paving the way for Blair’s later contributions to such classics as Song of the South, Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), and Peter Pan (1953).

One of Walt’s favorite artists, she made “modern art” not only accessible but appealing. Her emotional content, abstract styles and deceptively simple compositions are elevated to new levels through the single most magical ingredient – the colors of Mary Blair.

In the 1950s, Mary Blair left the Walt Disney Studios and began a freelance career, creating illustrations for children’s books, print advertising and television commercials. A call from Walt Disney in 1963 brought her back to Disney, this time to work with Imagineers on the creation of a new attraction called “it’s a small world.”

A pinnacle in Blair’s career, this one attraction brought together a lifetime of her art: brilliant color styling, ingenious child-like designs, surrealistic and abstract images and a bold graphic approach, all infused with vibrant joy and optimism.

She then applied her unique style to Disneyland projects, including the themed murals for the New Tomorrowland of 1967. Blair later conceived and designed the enormous murals for Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Florida, murals that continue to delight and amaze guests today.

Mary Blair was named a Disney Legend in 1991.



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