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The Ryman Centennial

Imagineer Herb Ryman (1910-1989) paints a rendering of Benjamin Franklin for EPCOT Center’s American Adventure pavilion

It has officially been declared “Herb Ryman Month” here at Progress City; the veteran Disney artist and Imagineer would have been 100 years old this June 28th.

An on-and-off member of the Disney family from the days of Fantasia, Ryman was working on concepts for the Euro Disneyland project at the time of his death in 1989. Herb had a successful art career outside of the Disney domain; he had worked in the art department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s, and would remain a successful freelance artist and painter throughout his career.

For Disney, Ryman contributed the iconic first rendering of Disneyland in 1953, which Roy Disney used to sell the idea of the park to financiers in New York. He also painted the first official rendering for Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle, and would do similar work for the Tokyo and Euro Disneylands. Most relevant to Progress City, Ryman produced scads of concept pieces for EPCOT Center in the 1970s and 80s. If you can picture, in your mind’s eye, any of the iconic renderings of the Future World or World Showcase pavilions, the odds are decent that Ryman was responsible. Ryman famously painted Spaceship Earth – in both gold and silver variants – as well as Horizons, France, China and several others. He also did a great deal of work on the never-realized Equatoral Africa pavilion; his efforts there lead to a friendship with author and pavilion consultant Alex Haley.

These international paintings were informed by Ryman’s travels; he circled the world on steamships in the 1930s, spending a great deal of time in Indochina. Later in life, he would go on safari – art safari, naturally – in Africa.

He was one heck of an artist.

So we’ll be bringing “Herbie” up quite a bit this month; hopefully we’ll be able to see some cool art from a true genius who was lost to us far, far too soon.

And, one more thing.

In preparation for the Ryman Centennial, I happened to notice that Herb’s page on Wikipedia is embarrassingly sparse. This is especially egregious when you compare it to his sister Lucille’s page, which is disproportionately detailed. Perhaps she has a better agent.

While Wikipedia is hardly something to get too concerned about, I think it would be a nice token gift for Herbert’s 100th birthday for all Progress Citizens to chip in and give this beloved Imagineer a detailed and scholarly online biography worthy of his talent. So get going, my studious Disney fans – Wikipedia is a collaborative enterprise so I encourage you to spread the word around and get as many people as possible to contribute. By the end of June, I think it’d be pretty cool if a Disney newbie could surf onto Wikipedia and learn a little bit about the great Herbert Dickens Ryman.

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4 comments to The Ryman Centennial

  • RO93461

    Herb Ryman was more than an amazing artist. He was the one guy that could tell Walt not to give him lackluster assignments (“give ‘em to Sam McKim, he’ll do it”) and if so, he was taking a leave. At times he did that. He had a life and lived it beyond Walt’s plans for him. We are richer for Herbie bringing his love for history and his own passion to the parks. A great quote of his is “paint the verbs not the nouns” and when it came to some of the Imagineering work that was lavishly below par, he’d say “well.. as you know, bad taste costs no more.” Love that.

    I complained about how lame a meeting was that I had to be in and Herb made me a cartoon once of 3 Imagineering “yes” men with feedbags around their necks barfing ideas into them. It was titled “good barfsmanship”. Now that’s a great guy!

    Eddie Sotto

  • Eddie,

    I’m so glad you mentioned that because it was one of the things that *really* stood out to me in the reading I’ve been doing. Herb is one of the very, very few artists that I can think of that managed to say no to Walt, or to walk away from Walt and be able to come back. Ub was another, but there were very, very few. From what I can gather he and Walt must have been closer than most of the other artists. Maybe it was because they were close in age and origin. But he definitely had a life “outside” of Disney, which is rare for someone who was with the company for that long.

    That quote about McKim cracked me up, and “paint the verbs not the nouns” is an *awesome* quote and something that I wish was painted on the wall at WDI. That’s just fantastic.

    I agree that his travels carry over into his work. Those renderings for World Showcase carry a real atmosphere that speaks of someone who has “been there”.

    Thanks for commenting!

  • RO93461

    All good points. Herb taught many good lessons. I wished I had paid better attention!

    When he heard I was heading to France he wanted to impress on me not to waste the time there. He said he loved Paris and that history “grabbed him by the throat” and made me a list of must see places. I got to most all of them. He remarked that it was just as easy to do the bridge leading into Liberty Square generically or research the real one Revere rode over. The cost was the same, the effort was not. Herb (and those Fox art directors that gave him the designs to paint) felt the guests would sense there was a difference in the richness that level of passion brings to designing with history and good proportional research. Herb used his time away to fill his soul with the “verbs” of what the world really feels like and he brought that back to the MGM movies he worked on. MGM saw the importance of his traveling to inform the look. Sometimes we lose that depth in haste and just slather on ornament with no basis other than what exists in the molds in the staff shop. You can sometimes feel the hollowness in the architecture without ever knocking on the fiberglas.

  • Wayne

    Hi all,
    I am a bit late for the centennial; but arrived here in the 101st. I would like to say that I have just recovered some of Herb’s concept toy illustrations. Emmett the Clown & Casey the Tiger.
    Does anyone know of these or remember them? I believe that they have been locked away in storage vault for decades! I am looking for more info on them, please.
    They are really fun, and I think terrific!

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