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A Tribute: Mary Blair, Artist

She was one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists. Mary Blair was a conceptual designer, artist and painter for The Walt Disney Company. It was under her artistic direction that the look of animated classics like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the theme park legend it’s a small world were created.


While other Disney artists (like the group known as the Nine Old Men) worked on the same films, it was Mary who held a special place in Walt’s heart.

Mary Blair is best known for the conceptual designs for Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and the classic Peter Pan (1953). And she also designed the look and theme for a little boat ride in Anaheim, California, called “It’s a Small World.” An impressive visual stylist, Mary Blair stands among Disney legends like Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas in the company archives. Furthermore, she held her own in a male-dominated profession.

The Google Doodle
Google even paid tribute to celebrate what would have been Mary Blair’s 100th birthday. ”She influenced the tone of the picture with her use of color and design,” said Michael Giaimo, who served as the art director for Disney’s 1995 Pocahontas. “Where Mary Blair was unique was that the work that she did here at the studio was not only beautiful work. What she did went beyond the project into a pure art form. It became art. It became a statement unto itself.”


 Mary Blair was honored with a Google Doodle. 

Blair was the featured subject at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 17th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation lecture at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Pete Docter, who directed the 2009 Oscar winner Up as well as Monsters, Inc., was one of the many animation giants who came out to honor Blair with “Mary Blair’s World of Color — A Centennial Tribute.”

Walt and El Groupo
Mary started her career at the Walt Disney Studios in 1940, initially working on Dumbo in 1941. Blair and her husband were asked by Walt Disney to join him and other animators (as well as Walt’s wife, Lillian) on a good-neighbor trip to South America.


Mary Blair conceptual art for The Three Caballeros.

Walt Disney had been asked to take the trip on behalf of the U.S. government to help secure southern neighbors during wartime. Walt decided to chronicle the event in his own unique way, making movies out of them. The trip was recently chronicled in the documentary Walt and El Groupo, now available on DVD. Mary Blair was also responsible for helping establish the look of the Technicolor-animated wonders Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Mary received credit as art supervisor for the films.

Artistic Inspiration
Mary Blair worked on Disney Studio’s animated features for more than 20 years — and was the only woman to hold such a significant position at the company. Mary died in 1978 at the age 66 and left behind an amazing body of work, which still influences artists today (click the image for a larger view):

Mary’s combination of commercial and personal artistic sense can still be seen today – and at several places, including Disneyland. In fact, Mary made several large murals. Her design for a 90-foot-high mural is the focal point of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and can be seen inside of the hotel.


The massive Mary Blair mural inside the Contemporary is one of the lesser known gems of the Walt Disney World resort. 

Another animator commented on Blair’s ability for “putting together simplified shapes and colors to make them really pop forward. She had a great ability with lighting. A lot of times in art direction, it seems very flat. But with just a little bit of lighting, you can change the atmosphere of the whole scene.” Mary Blair and her creations still find a way to inspire budding young artists.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

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