The Eric Carle Museum Presents “The World of Mary Blair”

(Amherst, MA) October 29, 2015—The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA, is pleased to present Magic, Color, Flair: the world of Mary Blair. On view from November 10, 2015 to February 21, 2016, this comprehensive exhibition explores the artistic process and development of one of Walt Disney’s most original and influential designers and art directors, Mary Blair (1911-1978). Blair’s joyful creativity―her appealing designs and exuberant color palette―endure in numerous media, including the classic Disney animated films Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, as well as 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 is organized by The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, CA.

John Canemaker—an Academy Award, Emmy Award, and Peabody Award-winning animator, historian, teacher, and author—organized the exhibition to reflect the arc of Blair’s remarkable career before, during, and after her years at The Walt Disney Studios. He relays her story through original artwork, photographs, and ephemera.

Magic, Color, Flair: the world of Mary Blair explores her boldly colored, stylized concept paintings for classic Disney animated features during the 1940s and 1950s, and her successful freelance career in New York where she became a popular illustrator for national advertisements and magazine articles, as well as a designer of clothing, window displays, theatrical sets, and children’s books.

The exhibition showcases The Walt Disney Family Museum’s extensive collection of Blair’s conceptual artwork in gouache and watercolor—some of which have never been displayed outside of California. Also featured are original illustrations from Blair’s five beloved Golden Books, including I Can Fly (1951) and The Up and Down Book (1964).

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 equates Blair’s exciting use of color with Henri Matisse, recalls, “She brought modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did. He was so excited about her work.”

Disney 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 outside 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 sequel to Fantasia.

In 1941, Blair joined the Disney expedition that toured Mexico and South America for three months and painted watercolors that inspired Disney 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 WonderlandSong 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, Disney commissioned Blair to assist in the large-scale, three-dimensional design of the theme park attraction “it’s a small world.” In it, Blair incorporated Audio-Animatronics® characters, wall murals, and tile décor. Over the years, she brought her many artistic gifts to numerous  other projects at the theme parks in California and Florida, including the fanciful murals at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel and resorts. Blair died July 26, 1978, in Soquel, California.

Thirty-seven years after her death, interest in Blair and her enchanting artwork continues to grow. Her early fine art watercolors and classic Disney film production concept paintings remain popular with collectors. Contemporary artists find inspiration in her independent spirit, technical virtuosity, creative ingenuity, and powerful visual storytelling, as well as her ability to thrive in traditionally male-dominated fields. http://www.carlemuseum.org/

Exhibition Catalog:

Magic, Color, Flair: the world of Mary Blair is the authoritative collection of Blair’s lifework, including her precocious early paintings, concept art from her Disney days, and the wildly wonderful artistic innovations of her later life. With an essay by exhibition curator and Academy Award-winning animator John Canemaker, this book is a bold, lively look into the work of an equally bold and lively artist, whose invaluable influence and keen eye helped shape some of the world’s favorite Disney experiences.

From Weldon Owen Publishing, this catalog available in The Carle Museum Bookshop is filled with 172 vibrant pages and is available for $40.

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