See the wonderful world of Disney artist Mary Blair 

click to enlarge Mary Blair
  • Mary Blair’s painting for Disney’s “Peter Pan” is among the colorful works on view at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Mary Blair was one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists — a brilliant colorist whose influence is still felt today in the world of design.

“Magic, Color, Flair: the world of Mary Blair,” on view at the Walt Disney Family Museum through Sept. 7, includes some 200 works tracing Blair’s path from her student days at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles to her career at the Walt Disney Studios and beyond.

In 1941, Walt Disney took a handful of select Disney artists — including Blair — on a Good Neighbor tour of Mexico and South America. The trip had a profound influence on Blair, and her bold, vibrant watercolors inspired Disney to name her art supervisor on “The Three Caballeros” and “Saludos Amigos.”

“I admire Mary Blair’s work very much,” says John Canemaker, an Academy Award-winning animation director and guest curator for the exhibition. “I think it was so important to the Disney canon in terms of the color that she used. She was a superb colorist.”

Blair’s touch is evident elsewhere, especially on Disney films such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan.” Fans will enjoy the image of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael flying around Big Ben in the night sky. It’s a stunning painting.

Other highlights include conceptual art for “Alice in Wonderland.” Blair’s mix of yellow, lime green and bright pink — set against Alice in her blue-and-white dress — is mesmerizing.

The exhibition catalog is beautifully done and includes interesting stories from those who worked with Blair at the Disney studios.

“This woman was an extraordinary artist who spent most of her life being misunderstood,” says animator Marc Davis, who worked with Blair in the 1960s. “All the men [who] were there, their design was based on perspective. Mary did things on marvelous flat planes. Walt appreciated this and wanted to see this but he, not being an artist himself, was never able to instruct the men on how to use this … it was tragic because she did things that were so marvelous and never got on the screen.”

Blair, who died in 1978, and Disney parted ways amicably in 1953. She went on to have a successful freelance career, illustrating advertisements, children’s books and more.

Her skill conveying emotion is evident everywhere, including illustrations she did for Golden Books that will look familiar to many baby boomers.

In 1963, Disney asked Blair to help design the “It’s a Small World” attraction in Disneyland. She also worked on other large-scale projects, such as murals at the Walt Disney World Resort and the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA.


Magic, Color, Flair: the world of Mary Blair

Where: Walt Disney Family Museum, 104 Montgomery St., Presidio, S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except closed Tuesdays; show runs through Sept. 7

Tickets: $17 to $25

Contact: (415) 345-6800,

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Cathy Bowman

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