You can't talk about Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland without acknowledging the contributions of artist, Mary Blair. We asked Michael Labrie, Director of Collections, to share with us the story of the acquisition of the Mary Blair collection.
Here is how it all happened:
In March 2008, we were invited to an exhibit of Mary Blair’s artwork at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, called The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. Many of her fabulous art pieces were selected from her son Kevin’s personal collection. Although we coveted many pieces in the exhibit, we recognized the merit in our own collection, including a charming watercolor by Mary’s husband, Lee Blair. This watercolor was the product of the Latin American trip in 1941, where Walt Disney accompanied a select group of studio personnel (known as "El Grupo") to research art and culture south of the border, and to promote goodwill between North and South America. Mary Blair was part of that talented group, and found her own unique artistic voice and colorful flair.
In May 2008, the documentary film about the South American journey, Walt and El Grupo, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival. We had the bittersweet pleasure of meeting Mary’s son Kevin Blair, who passed away just a few months after the screening. We had hoped to have him visit the Museum and see how much we appreciated his mom’s imaginative work.
It was Ted Thomas, the writer and director Walt and El Grupo, who put Mary Blair’s nieces, Maggie and Jeanne, in touch with Diane Disney Miller. They had inherited the Blair art from Mary, Lee, and Lee’s brother Preston, and were in the process of organizing and having it appraised. Knowing that we were building our collection, it was suggested to the nieces that the Walt Disney Family Foundation might be interested in having a look.
After meeting Diane, Maggie and Jeanne mentioned Mary’s paint stand that had been uncovered in Kevin’s garage, and they offered it to her for the Museum. We always knew we would have a tribute to Mary and this stand is the foundation of her “shrine” in the lower level of the building, along with her paintbrushes, tools, her stylish eyeglasses, and other treasures gifted to the Foundation.
In 2008 we acquired Mary Blair’s sketchbooks from the South American trip, and loaned them to a 2009 exhibition called The Colors of Mary Blair, organized by Koji Hoshino, the president of Studio Ghibli in Tokyo, Japan. On exhibit were more than 500 objects, and our sketchbooks were included!
Mary Blair South America Sketches. Collection Walt Disney Family Foundation. ©Disney.
The Colors of Mary Blair was very well received in Tokyo, a beautiful catalog was printed and the collection came back to the San Francisco Bay Area where both her son Kevin, and her niece Jeanne Chamberlain lived. Subsequently, her other niece, Maggie Richardson moved from Rancho Cucamonga to the Bay Area. Most of the art from the nieces’ collection, I am thrilled to say, is now part of our collection. In addition to many concept drawings, paintings, and visual development pieces by Mary, the acquisition includes story sketches and watercolors of dancing elephants in tutus by Lee Blair, and rough animation drawings of the hippo doing pirouettes by Preston Blair.
Preston Blair sketches of hippos. Collection Walt Disney Family Foundation. ©Disney.
Lee Blair Watercolor of dancing elephants. Collection Walt Disney Family Foundation. ©Disney.
Some of these new artworks are already in our galleries, and in good time, you will see all of the Blair pieces, as we plan to share them with the world!
Director of Collections
On Friday April 29 and Saturday April 30, you can attend Look Closer: Mary Blair's Paint Stand, at 3:00pm in The Walt Disney Family Museum's Lower Lobby.