Art of Mary Blair
(Walt Disney Family Museum) by John Canemaker

During my recent trip to the Bay Area for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival I got to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum, as well, and I’m so glad I did. There are two outstanding exhibits in their temporary galleries right now, one honoring master animator Marc Davis and the other (in a separate building) paying tribute to one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists, Mary Blair. Disney wasn’t known to pay compliments too freely, but he had tremendous admiration for Blair’s work and especially her forward-thinking use of color. (He and his wife Lillian displayed several of her pieces in their home.)She was one of the artists who accompanied Walt to Central and South America in 1941, as documented in the fascinating film Walt and El Grupo—and the experience had a lifelong impact on her artwork.

Mary Blair at work in her studio
Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney Family Foundation, ©The Estate of Mary Blair

Disney later had her do conceptual art for such films as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan and chastised his staff for not following her ideas more closely. She had a special affinity for drawing children, which she put to good use in her years of illustrating Little Golden Books, and reached its apotheosis when Walt commissioned her to design the It’s a Small World attraction for the New York World’s Fair. It has been delighting audiences at Disneyland and other Disney theme parks ever since.

The extensive museum exhibit covers a broad spectrum, from her student days at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles to her later work designing enormous tile murals and greeting cards. Seeing so many pieces, so well organized, in person is a special treat and allows the visitor to immerse himself in Blair’s uniquely appealing world.

Animation historian John Canemaker already wrote a book called The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, which belongs on every animation bookshelf, so he was the obvious person to curate this exhibition and write its accompanying catalogue, itself a beautiful hardcover book called Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blair.

You can learn more about the Walt Disney Family Museum HERE and purchase the Mary Blair book and other items. If you visit in person you’ll find even more Blair-designed goodies in the jam-packed museum gift shop, but I give you fair warning: they’re hard to resist.

Later this week I’ll discuss another, even more unusual book that’s been published by the Walt Disney Family Foundation and the Museum. Stay tuned.