Mary Blair

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mary Blair
Mary Blair.jpg
Mary Blair by Michael Netzer
Mary Browne Robinson

October 21, 1911
DiedJuly 26, 1978(1978-07-26) (aged 66)
Alma materSan Jose State University
Chouinard Art Institute
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1942-1953)
Known forArtwork made for The Walt Disney Company
SpouseLee Everett Blair (1934–1978)
RelativesPreston Blair (brother-in-law)
AwardsDisney Legend Award
Winsor McCay Award

Mary Blair (born Mary Browne Robinson; October 21, 1911 – July 26, 1978) was an American artist, animator, and designer. She 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.[1] 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 group of Disney Legends in 1991.

Early life[edit]

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 1920s.[2] After graduating from San José State University which she attended from 1929 to 1931,[2] Mary won a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute[3] 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 (1908–1995). Along with her husband Lee, she became a member of the California School of Watercolor[4] and quickly became known for being an imaginative colorist and designer.


Blair's first professional job in the animation industry was as an animator with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[5] She would soon leave and join Lee Blair at the Ub Iwerks studio before moving to Disney. In the 1930s she was also a part of the innovative California Water-Color Society.[5]

Blair joined Walt Disney Animation Studios—initially with some reluctance—[6] 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"[5] which was not released until the late 1990s.

After leaving the studio for a short time in 1941, Blair travelled to various South American countries with Walt Disney, Lillian Disney and other artists on a research tour[5] as part of the Good Neighbor policy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her watercolors impressed Disney, who appointed her as an art supervisor for the animated feature films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.[7]

Blair 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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] Some of Mary Blair's work, notably in So Dear to My Heart, was inspired by quilts.[9][11] In a letter to Walt Disney, Blair discussed her interest to incorporate quilts into So Dear to My Heart, "It seems that quilt making is a revived art in this country now, which fact adds more value to its use as a medium of expression in our picture.[12]

After the completion of Peter Pan, Blair resigned from Disney and worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, creating advertising campaigns for companies such as Nabisco, Pepsodent, Maxwell House,[13] 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.[8]

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".[7] 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.

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.[5]

In 1966, philanthropist Dr. Jules Stein hired Walt Disney to create a ceramic mural for his newly opened Eye Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mary Blair designed the mural for Dr. Stein's Pediatric Surgery waiting room. The theme Walt chose for the mural was that of "It's a Small World" attraction designed by Blair. 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.[5]

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 How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.[13] Blair would eventually move to Washington for Lee Blair's military career and then return to her in home studio located in Long Island, New York.[13]


Films that Mary Blair worked on include:

Blair was also a writer for:


Mary Blair moved back to California and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Soquel, California[13] on July 26, 1978, aged 66.[1] Her death was likely brought on by acute alcoholism.[14]

In 1991, she was honored as a Disney Legend.[15] Also posthumously, she received the Winsor McCay Award from ASIFA-Hollywood in 1996 along with two other Disney animators.

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.[16] Simon & Schuster published Pocket Full of Colors, a picture book biography about Mary Blair, in August 2017.[17] The book is written by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville, and illustrated by Brigette Baranger, who once worked as an artist at Disney.

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.[5]

Blair's artwork was exhibited in The Colors of Mary Blair at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, July 2009. From March 13 to September 7, 2014, the Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair exhibition was on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco Presidio, California.[6]

There is a visual representation of Blair in Disneyland's It's A Small World ride; she is rendered as a little girl halfway up the Eiffel Tower, holding a balloon.[18]

Selected artwork[edit]


  • Blair, Mary; McHugh, Gelolo (2010) [1950], Baby's House, Little Golden Books, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-375-85460-6.
  • Blair, Mary; Krauss, Ruth (1992) [1951], I Can Fly, Little Golden Books, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-307-00146-6.
  • Blair, Mary; Lloyd, Norman (1955), The New Golden Song Book, Golden Press.


  1. ^ a b "Mary Blair", The Art of Disney Animation, Canal blog, January 18, 2009, archived from the original on October 22, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Taylor, Robert (March 10, 2014). "Walt Disney Museum exhibit focuses on bold colorful world of Mary Blair". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  3. ^ "MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair". Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  4. ^ Canemaker, John. "About Mary Blair". Archived from the original on May 19, 2015. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair". Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Walt Disney Museum exhibit focuses on bold colorful world of Mary Blair". The Mercury News. March 10, 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Brooks, Katherine (March 22, 2014). "One Of Disney's Most Influential Female Artists Finally Gets Her Due". The Huffington Post. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
  8. ^ a b Canemaker, John. "About Mary Blair". Archived from the original on May 19, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  9. ^ a b KORKIS, JIM (August 30, 2011). "Behind the Scenes: So Dear To My Heart". The Walt Disney Family Museum. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  10. ^ Carpenter, Eric (October 22, 2011). "Disney's Mary Blair honored by Google". The Orange County Register. Local 2. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  11. ^ Timmer, Tracie (October 19, 2016). "Painting Dreams with Mary Blair". The Walt Disney Family Museum. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  12. ^ Brown, Bronwen (2006). "A Companion to Contemporary Art since 19452006334Edited by Amelia Jones. A Companion to Contemporary Art since 1945. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell 2006. xx + 628 pp. £60/$89.95 (hbck); £19.99/$39.95 (pbck), ISBN: 1 4051 0794 4 Blackwell Companions in Art History". Reference Reviews. 20 (6): 50–51. doi:10.1108/09504120610687416. ISSN 0950-4125.
  13. ^ a b c d Taylor, Robert (March 10, 2014). "Walt Disney Museum exhibit focuses on bold colorful world of Mary Blair". San Jose Mercury News.
  14. ^ "Soquel Artist Mary Blair Finally Gets Her Due -". Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  15. ^ "Mary Blair". IMDb. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Neild, Barry (October 21, 2011), "Google doodle celebrates influential Walt Disney artist Mary Blair", The Guardian, UK, retrieved October 21, 2011
  17. ^ Guglielmo, Amy; Tourville, Jacqueline (August 29, 2017). Pocket Full of Colors. ISBN 9781481461313.
  18. ^ "Five Things You Might Have Missed in 'it's a small world' at Disneyland Park".


  • Canemaker, John (2003), The Art and Flair of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, Disney Press, ISBN 0-7868-5391-3.
  • Clark Potter, Miriam (1953), The Golden Book of Little Verses, Simon & Schuster.

Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, Mindy; Foray, June (2017). Ink & paint : the women of Walt Disney's animation. Los Angeles, CA: Disney Editions.
  • Nathala Hollt,The Queens of Animation, Little Brown, 2019. ISBN 9780316439152

External links[edit]