Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Art and Flair of Mary Blair

By Keith Mahne

Mary Blair, oh my God where to start?! Mary Blair was an artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for Walt Disney, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s ’It’s a Small World’, the fiesta scene in ‘El Rio del Tiempo’ for the Mexico pavilion at Epcot‘s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. We often hear about "Walt's Nine Old Men", but if you ask me, the title should be "Walt's Nine Old Men and the Sweetheart" as Mary could hang with the best of them! Let's reflect on the art and flair of Mary Blair in today's new article...

While not a household name to most, Mary Blair‘s star looms large in the fields of animation, illustration, comics, and character/scenic design. She’s an “artist’s artist”, someone whose designs for Walt Disney reached countless millions — yet she worked in relative anonymity through most of her lifetime.

Blair’s first major assignment for Disney was as supervisor and concept artist for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, and she went on to produce designs, concepts, and color stylings for many of the studio’s best-loved films, including Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice In Wonderland.

Blair left the studio and went freelance in the mid-’50s, working in advertising and illustrating a number of classic children’s books. She returned to Disney to design the iconic “It’s A Small World” attraction for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and contributed additional work to the company’s theme parks through the rest of the decade.

Though Blair passed away in 1978, her reputation has grown ever since – her paintings and drawings are collected in books and shown in galleries around the world, and her use of color and shape and her memorable character designs remains influential throughout the animation industry and beyond.

Let's look back at some of her amazing work...

Mary Blair’s Concept Art vs. Production Celluloid:

The creation of Mary Blair's Tomorrowland mural:

For more on the magical work of Mary Blair, I highly suggest you check out the book The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. As the description states,

For more than a dozen years, a soft spoken, unassuming woman dominated design at The Walt Disney Studios with a joyful creativity and exuberant color palette that stamped the look of many classic Disney animated features, including Cinderella and Peter Pan. Favorite theme park attractions, most notably the "It's A Small World" boat ride, originally created for the 1964 New York World's Fair, were also among her designs. Now the story behind one of Walt's favorite artists is celebrated in this delightful volume of whimsical art and insightful commentary. In her prime, Mary Blair was an amazingly prolific American artist who enlivened and influenced the not-so-small worlds of film, print, theme parks, architectural décor, and advertising. Her art represented and communicated pure pleasure to the viewer. Mary Blair's personal flair was at one with the imagery that flowed effortlessly and continually from her brush for more than half a century. Walt Disney loved her art and championed it at the Studio. The two shared many sensibilities, including a childlike fondness for playfulness in imagery.

I've included a Amazon link for you to check out the book. It's a must for any Disney fan!


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

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