Since I mentioned Mary Blair in my previous post, I figured it was time to feature her in her own post. Before I continue, I want to again point out that this blog is not intended to portray a comprehensive picture of each illustrator. It is mainly intended as a short appreciation of the illustrators I love. That said, there are countless Mary Blair afficianados (as there are for the other artists I write about) and I hope I’m not irritating anyone by showcasing illustrators in terms that might sometimes be too general.
Mary Blair, as many people have begun to discover in the past few years, was perhaps one of the most impressive talents to emerge from the Walt Disney Studios in the mid part of the last century. She had a short life (b: 1911; d:1978), but the legacy she left behind has touched millions of people across the globe.
Blair came to the Walt Disney Studios in the early 1940s after serving a few years at a rival animation studio. There, she created conceptual color drawings of a number of key Disney feature cartoons, including elements of Dumbo, as well as Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella.
Luckily, Mary’s sense of color was so fresh and ahead-of-the-curve for animated work, that her drawings in general began to have an influence on the overall look of the each of her projects and not simply a small element.
In the mid-fifties, Mary resigned from Disney to become a freelance graphic artist, working on a number of projects for companies like Nabisco and Maxwell House. However, Mary may be best remembered for her contributions to Walt Disney’s It’s a Small World Ride at Disneyland.
Walt apparently adored Mary (and her sense of color and design) and invited her to contribute her talents to creating the overall look of the ride for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s almost a shame (and at the same a secret delight) that more people don’t know her name but countless millions have taken the short ride through “Small World”, essentially immersing themselves in her brain without ever really knowing it.
Mary passed away at a rather early age, but the inspiration she’s provided many illustrators since her death has marked her as a timeless talent. In 1991, Mary received a posthumous Disney Legends award and a few years ago, a travelling exhibit and book entitled The Art and Flair of Mary Blair managed to make new fans out of many people.