Todays Google Doodle pays tribute to former Disney character and concept artist Mary Blair. Born Mary Robinson on October 21, 1911, Blair joined Disney in 1940 and went on to be honored as a Disney Legend in 1991. Her artwork was widely recognized for its simplicity, vibrant colors, and stylized designs that leaned towards abstraction.
After school, Blair began her art career in the early 30s as a member of the California Watercolor Society. Her first works at Disney included artwork for Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, and a version of Fantasia that would eventually be released in the 1990s. In the early 40s, Blair and her husband Lee were part of President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy artist’s research group, traveling to South America for research and to promote reciprocal exchanges between the U.S. and Latin countries. They were accompanied by Walt Disney himself, with his wife Lillian. During this time, she also supervised artwork for two animated feature films, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
During the 50s, Disney released an animated film almost every year, with Blair contributing on several animated short films in addition to her color styling work on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Despite the fact that she was one of Walt Disney’s personal favorites, Blair left the company after production on Peter Pan wrapped, choosing to go out on her own as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator.
Trained at the Chouinard Art Institute of L.A. during the Great Depression, Blair turned her talents to advertisement design and book illustrating after leaving design. She illustrated a number of Golden Books, those classics many of us remember from our youth. Maxwell House, Baker’s Chocolate, Hanes Underwear, Nabisco, and others hired her to design advertisements. Another facet of her professional life was the design of theatrical sets, including holiday sets for Radio City Music Hall.
Though she’d left Disney, Walt still appreciated her talent and asked that she work on the It’s A Small World attraction. Perhaps her most ambitious work was completed in 1971; she created a 90 foot high mural for the grand opening of Disney’s Contemporary Resort and the piece remains there today.
Academy Award-winning animated filmmaker John Canemaker wrote a book about Blair in 2003, called The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. Of Blair, he says, “It would be difficult for anyone not to enjoy the witty, utterly charming art of Mary Blair, a dazzling and prolific sorceress of color and form. She saw the world in a fresh, new way and brought a special childlike beauty and gaiety to the works of print, theme parks and movies. I feel great pleasure merely gazing at a work by Mary Blair. It’s as delicious as feasting on rainbows.”
Mary Blair continued painting and illustrating into the 70s, turning out a number of innocent, whimsical nudes as she sought new ways to express herself. She passed away after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1978. Google’s Doodle pays homage to a woman credited with influencing modern designers and illustrators with her prolific portfolio of color-rich, bold designs in advertising, animation, and watercolor.
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