Posted by the San Jose Mercury News March 11, 2014.
By Robert Taylor
You may not know the name of artist Mary Blair, but you know her work: the design elements of “Cinderella” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan,” which brought Disney animation into the modern era. She was also behind the vigor of Disney’s World War II-era “Saludos Amigos,” “The Three Caballeros” and the charming illustrations for Golden Books, treasured by adults and children alike.
And as a culmination of her travels, her zest for life, her innovative, international style, there’s the musical journey that Walt Disney himself recruited her to design. Perhaps you’ve heard the theme song: “It’s A Small World.”
“She was very proud of it — thrilled, because it would make so many children happy,” recalls Blair’s niece, Jeanne Chamberlain who, with her sister Maggie Richardson, is carrying on Blair’s legacy. Richardson notes that, though the song by the Sherman brothers “can make people crazy,” the project was always a part of Blair’s life.
And there’s so much more, from California landscapes that tell dramatic stories in watercolor to tropical-looking Maxwell House coffee ads to window designs for Bonwit Teller in New York. Blair was even the “color designer” for the eye-popping musical film “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
It’s all ready to be discovered — much of it for the first time by the public — in “Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair” at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. (Beware, your GPS device may take you to Montgomery Street in the financial district, instead.) The exhibit, opening today and running through Sept. 7, includes more than 200 drawings, paintings, designs and photographs.
The exhibit was originally proposed by the late Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney’s daughter, and represents something of a homecoming for Blair’s artwork. Born in McAlester, Okla., in 1911, Blair moved with her family in the early 1920s to Morgan Hill, south of San Jose. She studied art at San Jose State College from 1929 to 1931, then won a scholarship to the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.