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John Canemaker organizing Mary Blair exhibit for Disney Family Museum

John Canemaker organizing Mary Blair exhibit for Disney Family Museum

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco will be presenting a major exhibition devoted to infuential Disney designer Mary Blair (1911-1978):  MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary
Blair
. On view from March 13th to September
7th, 2014, this comprehensive installation explores the artistic process and development
of one of Walt Disney’s most original and beloved art
directors. Guest curator John Canemaker – an Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Peabody Award-winning independent animator, animation historian, teacher and author – organized the exhibition to reflect the arc of Blair’s career before, during, and after her years at the Walt Disney Studios through artwork, artifacts, photographs, and videos.

Blair’s joyful creativity – her eye-appealing
designs and exuberant color palette – endure in numerous media, including classic
Disney animated films, such as Cinderella,
Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, and theme park attractions at
Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort, most notably “it’s a small world.”

MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR:
the world of Mary Blair
features some 200 works and explores all phases of Blair’s work by examining her artistic
development in three major areas: “Learning the Rules” – her student days at Los
Angeles’ legendary Chouinard School of Art, and her fine art regionalist watercolors
exhibited in the 1930s. “Breaking the Rules” – her artistic breakthrough with
boldly colored, stylized concept paintings for classic Disney animated features
during the 1940s and 1950s, including Saludos
Amigos
(1942) and Peter Pan
(1953); and “Creating New Worlds” – freelancing in the 1950s in New York where she
became a popular illustrator for national advertisements, magazine articles,
clothing designs, window displays, theatrical sets, and children’s books.

The exhibition includes
Blair’s rarely exhibited student art, which was influenced by the illustrations
of her mentor Pruett Carter, and her mid-to-late artworks from the 1930s as a
member of the innovative California Water-Color Society which reveal an
essential humanism and empathy for her subjects. The exhibition also showcases The
Walt Disney Family Museum’s extensive collection of Blair’s conceptual artworks
in gouache and watercolor – some of which have never displayed outside The Walt
Disney Studios – that reveal the artist’s inexhaustible creativity in design,
staging of imagery, visual appeal, and unique color sensibility. Also featured are
original illustrations from several of Blair’s beloved Golden Books including I Can Fly (1951).

An imaginative colorist and
designer, Blair helped introduce a modernist style to Walt Disney and his
studio, and for nearly 30 years, he touted her inspirational work for his films
and theme parks alike. Animator Marc Davis, who put Blair’s exciting use of
color on a par with Henri Matisse, recalled, “She brought modern art to Walt in
a way that no one else did. He was so excited about her work.”

In
the mid-1960s, Walt brought her talents to a spectacular new phase by
commissioning her to design large-scale, three-dimensional projects for his
theme park attractions, using Audio-animatronic characters, wall murals and
tile decor.

Walt played a
significant role in Blair’s creative growth. His overall vision of the world
and values (optimism, humor, love of tradition, families, and an avid interest
in technology) were interpreted and complimented by her creative contributions.
He continually championed her in his male-dominated studio giving her free rein
to explore concepts, colors, characters, and designs that were definitely out
of The Walt Disney Studios’ mainstream animation style. 

Born in
McAlester, Oklahoma, in 1911, Blair won a scholarship to Chouinard Art
Institute in Los Angeles. After graduation in 1933, at the height of the
Depression, she took a job in the animation unit of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
rather than pursue her dream of a fine arts career. In 1940, she joined The
Walt Disney Studios and worked on a number of projects, including the
never-produced “Baby Ballet,” part of a proposed second version of Fantasia.

In 1941, she
joined the Disney expedition that toured Mexico and South America for three
months and painted watercolors that inspired Walt to name her as an art
supervisor on The Three Caballeros
and Saludos Amigos. Blair’s striking
use of color and stylized graphics greatly
influenced many Disney postwar productions, including Alice in Wonderland, Song of
the South, Make Mine Music, Melody Time, So Dear to My Heart, The Adventures of
Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella,
and Peter
Pan

In 1964, Walt
asked Blair to assist in the design of the “it’s
a small world”
 attraction. Over the years, she brought her many artistic
gifts to numerous exhibits, attractions, and murals at the theme parks in
California and Florida, including the fanciful murals in the Grand Canyon
Concourse at the Contemporary Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort. Blair died
July 26, 1978, in Soquel, California.

Thirty-five years
after her death, interest in Mary Blair and her enchanting artworks continues
to grow. Her early fine art watercolors and classic Disney film production
concept paintings are popular with collectors. Contemporary artists still find
inspiration in her independent spirit, and her ability to survive in
traditionally male-dominated fields, her technical virtuosity, bottomless
creative ingenuity, and powerful visual storytelling. 

MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR:
the world of Mary Blair
is
organized by The Walt Disney Family Museum.

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