Mary Blair was one of the most prolific, original, and influential artists with Walt Disney Studios during its golden era of animation.
More than 35 years after her death, she is still one of the most loved and was honored posthumously as a Disney Legend in 1991 for her animation and Imagineering talents.
This summer, the Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio in San Francisco is paying honor to her work with a summer-long exhibit.
Guest curator John Canemaker, an Academy and Emmy Award winning filmmaker and animator, has put together Magic, Color and Flair: The World of Mary Blair, an exhibit of Blair’s life and work, before, during and after her time at Walt Disney Studios. The exhibit features artwork, artifacts, photographs and videos.
This includes her student and early work in the 1930s, as well as her concept paintings for Disney’s mid-century animated classics like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella.
Guests can also see examples of her freelance drawings and paintings from magazine illustrations, to advertisements, clothing designs, window displays, theatrical sets, and children’s books.
According the exhibit’s official press release, fellow Disney legend, the late Marc Davis, felt she helped Walt Disney gain an appreciation for a new era of art.
“She brought modern art to Walt in a way no one else did,” Davis had said. “He was so excited about her work.”
The exhibit runs through September 7.
Since not everyone can make it to the west coast this summer, here are three books that will help give a glimpse of Blair’s groundbreaking art, as well as art by those she influenced:
The Art and Flair of Mary Blair (Updated Edition) by John Canemaker (Disney Editions). Canemaker has compiled examples of Blair’s art dating back to the 1940s. This book is more about her art than her life, so don’t expect a comprehensive biography. The art, however, is beautiful.
The original version of this book disappointed many Blair enthusiasts who felt it was too brief and watered-down to truly celebrate the artist’s spirit and accomplishments. This newer, slightly larger version is the one to get.
A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books (Golden Books). In addition to her Disney contributions, Blair illustrated several Golden Books for various authors, such as I Can Fly, The Up and Down Book, and The Golden Book of Little Verses. This compilation brings back a collection of these books, including some that haven’t been in print for years. Canemaker provides the foreword for this compilation that is not only a beautiful example of her art, but contains some darling selections for beginning and young readers.
Poster Art of the Disney Parks by Daniel Handke and Vanessa Hunt (Disney Editions). Blair’s influence is seen on many of the memorable attraction posters, most notably “It’s a Small World.” These posters are as recognizable to Disney park visitors as any piece of contemporary art today. There are examples of poster art by fellow Disney artists Marc Davis, Sam McKimm, and others. Like the Art and Flair of Mary Blair, this book doesn’t provide any real biographical information on the artists, but it is a good way to collect many favorite attraction posters in one volume.
To learn more about Mary Blair and her work, visit the site The Magic of Mary Blair.