Mary Blair is one of our favourite artists and illustrators, and one of our inspirations here at Howell Edwards. Her skill, talent and vision sets her apart from others and is testament to why she is still so relevant and appealing today to fans and artists alike.
Born in 1911, she was the first woman to be hired by Walt Disney Studios’ Animation Department, joining the male-dominated team in 1940. Her work soon got the attention of Walt himself, who championed her to help bring modernist style to the studio. He seemed to connect with her fresh, childlike art style. Disney artist Rolly Crump once said: “The way she painted—in a lot of ways she was still a little girl. Walt was like that… You could see he could relate to children—she was the same way.” She was part of the Disney expedition that toured Mexico and South America, painting inspired watercolours that led Walt to name her as an art supervisor on The Three Caballeros (one of our favourite Disney films) and Saludos Amigos. Blair worked for Disney for a decade on animated films, alongside partially animated films like Song of The South, before the huge feature films of the 1950s. Her concept work on Cinderella, as well as her artistic influence seen on the following Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, is absolutely stunning.
After this, Blair worked as a freelance designer and illustrator, creating massive advertising campaigns and, amongst other things, illustrating several Little Golden Books. The books have recently been reprinted in one new volume, A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books, which is absolutely stunning. Our favourite is I Can Fly, which was written by Ruth Krauss and originally published in 1951. In 1964 she was asked by Walt Disney to assist on the design of It’s a Small World, becoming responsible for the whimsical colour and style of the ride. The ride and the design is an incredibly iconic experience when you go to Disney World, and so much of that is due to Blair’s diverse and naïve style.
Later on in her career, Blair worked on a number of outstanding murals for the Disney company, some painted and some made using tiling. The most iconic of these is the 90 foot high ‘Mosaic’ which is the focal point of the interior of Disney’s Contemporary Resort hotel at Walt Disney World. Open since the resort’s opening 1971, the mural runs down the middle of the hotel and is instantly visible on getting off the monorail. It’s stunningly beautiful.
Blair’s ground-breaking, bold style designs inspire many, many of today’s contemporary designers and illustrators, and you just have to take a look around a children’s section in a library, an art gallery or a home design shop to see how big her influence has been. She is considered to be one of Walt Disney’s most recognisable and beloved artists, and interest in her beautiful artworks still grows now, 37 years after her death. Her ability to thrive in an area that was previously “men only”, with her modern vision of concepts and characters, and inexhaustible creativity and colour sensibility, makes her such an inspiration to us as artists, designers and illustrators. Her books take pride of place on the studio bookshelves, alongside other influential artists like Marc Davis.
Images © Disney Enterprises, Inc.