I've wanted to write about Mary Blair for awhile. She is one of my absolute favorites and because I'm such a big admirer, the subject is a little intimidating. I get excited and don't know where to begin. So I'll try starting at the beginning.
In this post, I'll share Mary Blair's beginnings through the mid-40's, following her trip to South America.
Mary Blair dominated the design of Disney animation studios and branded the look of most of the signature animated films from the late 40's through the early 50's including Cinderella, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. She is also responsible for the "It's a Small World" ride, the mural art in the Tomorrowland Promenade (which has since been covered), and the ninety-foot mural at Disney's Contemporary Resort hotel at Walt Disney World.
Beyond animation, theme parks and architectural decor, she was a brilliant artist and her work in advertising and children's illustration could stand alone.
Mary Blair was born in 1911 and lived most of her life in California. She graduated from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1933 (other alumni include: Edith Head, Chuck Jones, Bob Mackie. It's now known as CalArts), and in 1934, she married another artist, Lee Everett Blair, brother of animator Preston Blair. They both had shows in private galleries, but the economic climate at the time made a steady job a necessity. In 1938, Mary went on a six week painting tour of Mexico, and Lee was hired to Disney studios as director of the color for Pinocchio. When she returned from Mexico, she worked briefly in the animation department at MGM studios, and in 1940 she joined the creative team at Disney.
In 1941, Walt Disney, his wife, and a handpicked group of artists and writers, including Lee and Mary, went on a the a two-month tour of South America as part of F.D.R.'s Good Neighbor" policy. The visual and cultural lore of Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru, inspired "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros," as well as Mary Blair's work for years to come.
Mary Blair was affected by the South American experience more than she ever put into words. In her paintings, she went inside herself to find how it felt, rather than how it looked. To paraphrase Kandinsky, she took ten looks at the canvas, one at the palette, and half a look at nature. Mary Blair's South American art detonated rather than evolved. Suddenly, there it was -- spectacularly rich and special, full of gaiety and color, and a delight to Walt Disney's eye. - from The Art and Flair of Mary Blair by John Canemaker
Fellow fans - I'm going by memory on a lot of this information, so please correct me if you see mistakes. Also, apologies for my sloppiness in crediting the photos. I've been gathering photos from ebay, animation sites, and flickr for years now, and I'm not sure exactly where I got the majority of them. If you feel I'm using one of your photos - please let me know and I will be sure to credit you.
I do, however, know that the following people have amazing collections:
Life Magazine Archive