For our April Look Closer presentations, The Walt Disney Family Museum Interpreters had the pleasure of focusing on four related artifacts, which together comprise the display devoted to Mary Blair. Located under our lower level stairwell, this display has become a popular stopping point for visitors, from curious newcomers to longtime fans of the beloved Disney Legend, Animator, and Imagineer. Interestingly, designers of the Museum originally didn’t allow for a space dedicated strictly to Mary Blair memorabilia; but when the artifacts became available, our Collections department cleverly found a special way to share them with our visitors.
The item in the display that first catches your eye is the color-splattered paint stand that was in Mary’s workspace at WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering). The stand is a Kem Weber design from 1939 and holds artist supplies and implements used by Blair on various projects. Resting alongside the many paint trays and brushes is a pair of Mary’s eyeglasses, suitably fashionable for a woman known for her sense of style.
Hanging behind the paint stand is a large, particularly striking black and white photograph of Mary, taken by her husband, artist Lee Blair, in the early 1960s. The photo shows Mary at work in her home studio in Great Neck, Long Island, where she is surrounded by concept art created for “it’s a small world,” and illustrations for various advertising campaigns from the 1950s and 1960s.
Also featured in the “Our Lady of Flair Shrine” as Michael Labrie, Director of Collections, lovingly calls the Mary Blair display, is a framed pastel portrait of Blair drawn and signed by fellow artist, Jack Miller, during the 1941 South American "Good Neighbor" Tour. The peg holes running down the left side of the portrait attest to the fact that Jack sketched Mary on animation paper while at work on assignment in South America.
The most unusual item in the Mary Blair display is arguably the blue hard hat decorated with faux jewels, silver wire, and fabric flowers. This hat was presented to Blair by her fellow artists at WED during the building of the Disneyland model for "it’s a small world." The hat is a playful reminder of both the fondness and admiration that the Disney crew had for Mary, and the fact that "it’s a small world" was a new pinnacle in her career.
Most of the items in the lower level display were gifts to the Walt Disney Family Foundation from Mary Blair’s nieces, Jeanne Chamberlain and Maggie Richardson. It’s especially fitting that all of these artifacts are now available for the public to enjoy in an area of the Museum where even the design of the colorful terrazzo floor was inspired by work from one of Walt Disney’s favorite and most influential artists.
Mary Beth Culler
Museum Interpreter at The Walt Disney Family Museum