Recognize any of these characters?
Any of these movies?
Well, you can thank Mary Blair for that.
An American, Texas-rasied artist, Mary Blair is one of Disney’s most influential female artists. While she has done a countless amount of things during her time at The Walt Disney Company and as a freelance artist, her most iconic works include original concept art for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and character illustrations of the White Rabbit and Captain Hook. These are some of Disney’s most recognized animated features, and have gone on to change the lives of artists as well as children who found the magic in them. I can relate personally to that one.
While what she created brought a lot to the table and resulted in some of Disney’s most recognizable works, how she created was the most influential aspect of what she did.
‘MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair’ is the title of an exhibition featured in The Walt Disney Family Museum last year, with a very fitting title. Mary Blair brought something to to the art world that would consequently influence a limitless amount of artists – she brought colour. A vibrant, exuberant, jubilant, dynamic colour palette that she always seemed to implement in her works, a colour palette that would inspire many artists around the world.
She started working at The Walt Disney Company in 1940 at the age of 38. Mary Blair was not just one of Disney’s many employees, but had quite a strong friendship with Walt himself. Before her trip to South America with Walt in 1941, she did work at the studio, but did not have much of a distinct style. She was so inspired during her travels, and created so many watercolours during her trip that Walt actually appointed her as an art supervisor for the animated films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. In fact, she is known as one of Walt’s personal favourite artists. Mary really found herself and her style after this.
Throughout the 1950’s Mary’s style greatly drove the work of Disney, and she was credited as colour stylist for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. After the completion of Peter Pan, Mary resigned from Disney and chose to become a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. She left quite the mark in the Disney Company, accredited as a key influence in many of Disney’s modern features like Tangled and Up. Even Michael Giaimo, art director of Pocahontas, talked about how unique Mary Blair’s style was, and what a statement she made. She even made it to the highly-acclaimed group of Disney Legends in 1991, a hall of fame program.
Like many others, Mary Blair has inspired me greatly. One of my absolute dreams is to work for the Walt Disney Studios, and the fact that Mary Blair was a female and was so influential is incredibly inspiring to me. If she could do it more than 50 years ago, I have hope that I can do it now. I relate to her as a female, as an aspiring artist, and funnily enough, as a Texan. She broke the stereotypes, gender-based and art-based, creating a revolutionary modernist style. She had to work ridiculously hard to get a scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, and eventually make it to The Walt Disney Company.
I am so excited to pursue this project. This can be something that I’ll learn so much from, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me. Through studying Mary Blair, interviewing local animators and creating a learning centre, I’ll be able to take a sneak peak on what it’s like to be an animator, what it takes to make it, and how Mary Blair achieved what she did. One of my hobbies that I love to develop my skills on is graphic design, and Mary Blair inspires me as a person and as a graphic designer. At the end of my research, I’ll be able to work on my presenting skills, another goal I set for myself.
She’s been Google-doodled, she’s had more than a few exhibitions dedicated to her, and has influenced the animated style of Disney significantly. What she’s done directly for the art world and what she’s done indirectly for me is something I’ll always be appreciative of, and I cannot wait to express that through this project.
You get an education in school and college.
And then you start to work. And that’s when you learn!
~ Mary Blair