Mary Blair, Disney’s Muse


Mary Blair was an artist who worked for Walt Disney. This is probably a profound understatement since, after viewing The Colors of Mary Blair at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, I began to see that her art was Disney. In fact, I hadn’t realized that the aesthetic of the 50’s and 60’s, in art, advertising, design, as well as animation, were all shaped by her unique use of colors and stylized shapes.

Not only did she do a lot of the conceptual art for many of Disney’s biggest films, her influence extends to current films like the anthropomorphized Cars. Blair was also the mind behind the iconic It’s a Small World attraction, my favorite ride to deconstruct.

Her works extend way beyond Disney.  She was a critically acclaimed artist before joining Mickey’s team, and made several attempts to leave and blaze her own trail.  But women artists were (and still are) not taken seriously, so she returned to what seems to be a supportive  boss in Walt Disney.

I wonder how she would have been received had her work not been identified with the ultimate in commercialized art.  Yet, it’s doubtful she would have wielded the same influence had she been merely freelancing.


The exhibit is a comprehensive retrospective of her works, from her post-art nouveau student days to her Disney years to her bizarre surreal paintings before her death.  I appreciated the way she researched her subjects, even traveling to South America to get ideas for a film.

I have to admit, I was dismissive when T suggested going to the exhibit, because of my love/hate relationship with Disney.  But I was set straight with a good herstory lesson and educated about an important and influential mid-century artist.