Mary Blair by Michael Netzer
|Born||Mary Browne Robinson
October 21, 1911
McAlester, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||July 26, 1978
Soquel, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||San Jose State University
Chouinard Art Institute
|Known for||Artist, Animator, Designer|
|Notable work||Alice in Wonderland
Song of the South
Make Mine Music
So Dear to My Heart
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
|Spouse(s)||Lee Everett Blair (1934-1978)|
|Awards||Disney Legend Award
Winsor McCay Award
Mary Blair (October 21, 1911 – July 26, 1978), born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, 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 in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney's Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children's books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.
Born on October 21, 1911, in McAlester, Oklahoma, Mary Browne Robinson moved to Texas while still a small child, and later to the city of Morgan Hill, California in the early 20s. After graduating from San Jose State College which she attended from 1929 to 1931, Mary won a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where artists such as Pruett Carter, Morgan Russell and Lawrence Murphy were among the teachers. She graduated from Chouinard in 1933. In 1934 shortly after college, she married another artist, Lee Everett Blair (October 1, 1911 – April 19, 1993). She was the sister-in-law of animator Preston Blair (1908–95). Along with her husband Lee, she became a member of the California School of Watercolor and quickly became known for being an imaginative colorist and designer.
Mary Blair joined The Walt Disney Company in 1940 and worked briefly on art for Dumbo, an early version of Lady and the Tramp, and a second version of Fantasia titled "Baby Ballet" which was not released until the late 1990s.
After leaving the studio for a short time in 1941, Mary travelled to various South American countries with Walt Disney, Lillian Disney and other artists on a research tour. The watercolors that Mary painted, lead Walt to assign her as an art supervisor for the animated feature films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Mary first began animation and color design on major films in 1943 and would continue to work on animated films for Disney for a full decade. Her work with animation did not end there however as after that, she worked on several package films, excluding Fun and Fancy Free, and on two partially animated features — Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. The early 1950s were a busy time for the Disney studio, with an animated feature released nearly every year. Mary Blair was credited with color styling on Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953), and the artistic influence of her concept art is strongly felt in those films, as well as in several animated shorts, including Susie the Little Blue Coupe and The Little House, she designed during that period.
After the completion of Peter Pan, Mary Blair resigned from Disney and worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, creating advertising campaigns for companies such as Nabisco, Pepsodent, Maxwell House, Beatrice Foods and others. She also illustrated several Little Golden Books for publisher Simon & Schuster, some of which remain in print today, and she also designed Christmas and Easter sets for Radio City Music Hall. Blair not only worked in graphic design and animation but also as a designer for Bonwit Teller and created theatrical sets.
At the request of Walt Disney, who regarded highly her innate sense of color styling, Blair began work on Disney's new attraction, "It's a Small World". Originally a Pepsi-Cola-sponsored pavilion benefiting UNICEF at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the attraction moved to Disneyland after the Fair closed and was later replicated at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort as well as Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. It's a small world would become a unique experience for people with the lopsided cutouts, clashing colors and misshaped buildings.
Mary Blair created murals that would be showcased in Disney parks, hotels and other Disney attractions from California to Florida. These murals were not only painted but some would be tile decor. In 1967, Blair created mural art for the Tomorrowland Promenade. Two similar tile murals flanked the entrance corridor. The mural over Adventure Thru Inner Space was covered over in 1987 with the opening of Star Tours, while the other remained in place until 1998 when the Circle-Vision 360° was replaced by Rocket Rods and a new mural was designed to reflect the new theme. Her design of a 90-foot-high (27 m) mural remains a focal point of the Disney's Contemporary Resort hotel at Walt Disney World, which was completed for the resort's opening in 1971.
Mary Blair would also go on to make sets of Walt Disney note cards for Hallmark. In 1968, Blair was credited as color designer on the film version of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Blair would eventually move out to Washington for Lee Blair's military career and then return to her in home studio located in Long Island, New York.
Films that Mary Blair worked on include:
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967)
- Donald Duck Visits Lake Titicaca (1955)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Cinderella (1950)
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
- So Dear to My Heart (1948)
- Melody Time (1948)
- Song of the South (1948)
- Make Mine Music (1946)
- Health for the Americas: Cleanliness Brings Health (1945)
- The Three Caballeros (1944)
- Saludos Amigos (1942)
Blair was also a writer for:
While the fine art she created outside of her association with Disney and her work as an illustrator is not widely known, Blair's bold and ground-breaking color design still inspires many of today's contemporary designers and animators. A Google doodle was created on Friday, October 21, 2011, to commemorate the centennial of her birth. The Doodle featured an image of an illustrator as Mary might have drawn herself, surrounded by the simple patterns and shapes that made up her familiar cartoon world.
Mary Blair has been credited with introducing modernist art styles to Walt Disney and his studio by using primary colors to form intense contrast and colors that are unnatural to the image they are depicting.
In 1966, Philanthropist Dr. Jules Stein hired Walt Disney to create a ceramic mural for his newly opened Eye Institute, located at the University of California, Los Angeles. Walt Disney tapped Mary Blair to design the mural for Dr. Stein's Pediatric Surgery waiting room. The intent of the mural was to help ease the children's tensions while waiting for surgery. The theme Walt chose for the mural was that of "It's a Small World" attraction designed by Mary Blair. Mary got to work researching and drawing the new mural, patterning it after the amusement ride - featuring children from all over the world. The entire process of creating this mural is documented in a 20-minute film, including creating the design, making the porcelain and mixing the color glazes. Student artists from Cal-Arts assisted Mary in transferring her art onto the tiles and painting them as well. This mural is still a highlight of UCLA's Stein Eye Institute's Pediatric Center. To view the documentary film of the entire murla process, click the Mary Blair Ceramic Mural link. More information can also be found at the Animation Scoop website or Cartoon Research website.
- "Mary Blair", The Art of Disney Animation, Canal blog, 2009-01-18.
- Taylor, Robert. "Walt Disney Museum exhibit focuses on bold colorful world of Mary Blair". www.mercurynews.com/. San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- "MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair". www.waltdisney.org. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- Canemaker, John. "About Mary Blair". www.magicofmaryblair.com/. Retrieved 9 May 2015.
- "MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair". www.waltdisney.org/. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
- Brooks, Katherine (March 22, 2014). "One Of Disney's Most Influential Female Artists Finally Gets Her Due". www.huffingtonpost.com/. The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
- Canemaker, John. "About Mary Blair". www.magicofmaryblair.com. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
- Carpenter, Eric (October 22, 2011). "Disney's Mary Blair honored by Google". The Orange County Register. Local 2. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
- Taylor, Robert. "Walt Disney Museum exhibit focuses on bold colorful world of Mary Blair". www.mercurynews.com/. San Jose Mercury News.
- Neild, Barry (21 October 2011), Google doodle celebrates influential Walt Disney artist Mary Blair, UK: The Guardian, retrieved October 21, 2011
- "Mary Blair", Legends, Disney, Go.
- Canemaker, John (2003), The Art and Flair of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, Disney Press, ISBN 0-7868-5391-3.
- Blair, Mary; McHugh, Gelolo (2010) , Baby's House, Little Golden Books, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-375-85460-6.
- Blair, Mary; Krauss, Ruth (1992) , I Can Fly, Little Golden Books, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-307-00146-6.
- Clark Potter, Miriam (1953), The Golden Book of Little Verses, Simon & Schuster.
- Blair, Mary; Lloyd, Norman (1955), The New Golden Song Book, Golden Press.
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