The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco has done it again, with a spectacular new exhibit showcasing the artwork of animation concept artist, illustrator, painter, and Imagineer Mary Blair (1911–1978). MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair debuted on March 13th, and is scheduled to run until September 7th in the museum’s newly-dedicated Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall. Artwork on display traces Blair’s career from her formative experiences with Los Angeles’s legendary Chouinard Art Institute and the California Water-Color Society to her seminal 1941 South America trip, her storied Disney career, and beyond.
The exhibition is curated by animation historian extraordinaire John Canemaker. Canemaker also wrote the introduction to the exhibit’s stunning 172-page catalogue, and he has also updated his long out-of-print exploration of Blair’s artwork and life. Both books are superb and should be instant buys for any fan of Blair’s work.
Filling the entire two-story Exhibition Hall, the exhibit unwinds chronologically. An excellent personal audio tour is available, which walks you through the exhibit and features guest commentators such as Canemaker, historian Ted Thomas, and Blair contemporary and friend Alice Davis.
While the Family Museum, located in San Francisco’s beautiful Presidio, was already a must-visit for any fan, it’s well worth making a special trip while this exhibit is on display. Seeing Blair’s artwork in person, even if you’ve seen reproductions in books or online, is striking. Her sense of color is truly unparalleled and it’s remarkable to see the original pieces, many of them still showing the pinholes where they were tacked up on some bygone Disney studio storyboard. It’s like seeing the artwork anew, and there’s no way I can really convey how poorly an online copy, such as the one below, reproduces the mind-bending artistry of Blair’s work.
Pieces on display include Blair’s work for features such as Fantasia, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Alice in Wonderland, Song of the South, Make Mine Music, Melody Time, So Dear to My Heart, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. There are also inspirational drawings Blair made for beloved short subjects, such as Susie the Little Blue Coupe and The Little House; her freelance commercial career is represented by art from beloved Little Golden Books including I Can Fly. Her Imagineering career is represented by 1964’s it’s a small world, her 1967 murals for Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, and her massive tile mural for Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort.
All in all, the exhibit as well as the museum itself is well worth your time and should be on everyone’s future tour itinerary. You can find out more at the museum’s website; the two new Blair books – both worth a look – can be found at Amazon. More samples of Blair’s remarkable artwork can be found below.