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Mary Blair

Mary Blair
Disney Fine Artist

The Collection Shop Gallery

Updated on Friday, September 19, 2014

Mary Blair

An imaginative colorist and designer, Blair helped introduce a modernist style to Walt Disney and his studio, and for nearly 30 years, he touted her inspirational work for his films and theme parks alike. Animator Marc Davis, who put Blair’s exciting use of color on a par with Henri Matisse, recalled, “She brought modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did. He was so excited about her work. In the mid-1960s, Walt brought her talents to a spectacular new phase by commissioning her to design large-scale, three-dimensional projects for his theme park attractions, using Audio-animatronic characters, wall murals and tile décor. Walt played a significant role in Blair’s creative growth. His overall vision of the world and values (optimism, humor, love of tradition, families, and an avid interest in technology) were interpreted and complimented by her creative contributions. He continually championed her in his male-dominated studio giving her free rein to explore concepts, colors, characters, and designs that were definitely out of The Walt Disney Studios’ mainstream animation style. Born in McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1911, Blair won a scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. After graduation in 1933, at the height of the Depression, she took a job in the animation unit of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) rather than pursue her dream of a fine arts career. In 1940, she joined The Walt Disney Studios and worked on a number of projects, including the never-produced “Baby Ballet,” part of a proposed second version of Fantasia. In 1941, she joined the Disney expedition that toured Mexico and South America for three months and painted watercolors that inspired Walt to name her as an art supervisor on The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos. Blair’s striking use of color and stylized graphics greatly influenced many Disney postwar productions, including Alice in Wonderland, Song of the South, Make Mine Music, Melody Time, So Dear to My Heart, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. In 1964, Walt asked Blair to assist in the design of the “it’s a small world” attraction. Over the years, she brought her many artistic gifts to numerous exhibits, attractions, and murals at the theme parks in California and Florida, including the fanciful murals in the Grand Canyon Concourse at the Contemporary Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort. Blair died July 26, 1978, in Soquel, California. Thirty-five years after her death, interest in Mary Blair and her enchanting artworks continues to grow. Her early fine art watercolors and classic Disney film production concept paintings are popular with collectors. Contemporary artists still find inspiration in her independent spirit, and her ability to survive in traditionally male-dominated fields, her technical virtuosity, bottomless creative ingenuity, and powerful visual storytelling. Courtesy Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©The Estate of Mary Blair.