The Modernist Marvel: Getting to Know Mary Blair

The Modernist Marvel: Getting to Know Mary Blair

When it came to the development of the Walt Disney Company, as the saying goes, it took a village. This meant countless hours of hard work done by creative people with a singular vision. Walt Disney knew how to find the right people to help bring his company’s ideas to life, and one person in particular who exemplifies this exemplary level of work is Disney Legend Mary Blair.

Let’s learn a little about the incredible life of this designer, animator, and artist.

An Artist from Birth

Mary Blair, whose maiden name was Mary Robinson, showed an inclination and a unique talent for artistic exploits at an early age. She and her family moved to California when she was still a child, and it was there where her artistry really started to flourish.

Mary attended San Jose State University from 1929 to 1931, after which she earned a scholarship to the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Fun Fact: In 1961, Roy and Walt Disney spearheaded the effort to merge Chouinard with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, which created the California Institute of the Arts. This school became the first degree-granting higher learning institution for the visual and performing arts in the United States.

Now, back to Mary Blair.

Early Work

Mary Blair’s first job after graduating from Chouinard was as an animator with MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).  She would not be there for long before transitioning to a job working with her husband, Lee Blair, and the legendary Ub Iwerks in his studio, in a period when he was not working with Walt Disney. It seemed her path to Disney was inevitable, however, for she would join Walt and Co. in 1940.

Blair hit the ground running for Walt Disney Studios, working on Dumbo, Fantasia, and Lady and the Tramp within the year. Mary would take a short hiatus from Disney after 1941, but she would soon return to the company and start making even bigger contributions.

Disney Artwork

Upon Mary Blair’s return to Walt Disney Studios, she traveled to South America with Walt and Lillian Disney, along with other artists, in order to immerse themselves in Latin cultures that would soon be represented in Disney films and attractions. She was named the art supervisor for Disney’s upcoming film, The Three Caballeros, and many of her depictions of these cultures were used as inspiration for the “It’s a Small World” ride.

Mary Blair was quickly becoming one of the key cogs behind the engine that was Walt Disney Studios. Disney really took off in the 50s and 60s, thanks in large part to Blair’s incredible work on some of the company’s most successful films. Her modernist color styling can be seen in films like Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland. Going back to the aforementioned “It’s a Small World” attraction, Walt Disney entrusted her with much more than inspiration. Her color styling and use of shapes and imagery to depict cultures from around the world have garnered praise for over half a century.

Mary was truly a Swiss Army Knife for Walt Disney Studios. Her vision was felt not only in films and attractions, but in the artwork on display around the parks and resorts. A mural of hers can be seen in the Tomorrowland Promenade, and who could forget her 90-foot masterpiece in the middle of the Contemporary Hotel? Keep an eye out for the five-legged goat! Blair believed no piece of artwork should be perfect, so she included a mistake that Disney-lovers soon caught on to.


Mary Blair passed away in 1978 and was named a Disney Legend in 1991. She was also given the Winsor McCay Award in 1996 for her contributions to animations and design. Blair’s influence can still be felt today, for her trailblazing run as a female artist and animator and her groundbreaking use of modernist color techniques helped propel Walt Disney Studios leaps and bounds in front of the competition.

Our “Mary Blair Fan Club” t-shirt serves to honor this legend among legends. Order yours now! The club is growing by the day!

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