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Mary Blair - My Fellow Imagineers - Tom Gilleon - Contemporary Art

Mary Blair was an exceptional color stylist that was trained at Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles, California.  She began working in animation and is credited for the color styling on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.  Although her work was never actually seen on the screen, its vibrancy, freshness, and energy inspired those that were doing the animation.


When I look at Mary’s work on Cinderella I have to ask myself if she was designing a set for animation or was she really providing me with a perfect lesson in the use of fine arts principles because she knew that this book was going to be written.  In the scene with Cinderella and the Prince dancing before the clock is to strike, the mood of a moonlight nocturnal scene is set with the use of a cool nearly blue green monochromatic color. The Prince is wearing a warm vibrant blue with a brilliant red sash and Cinderella is in a pale pink dress that becomes a radiant pink when surrounded by the deep value of the blue green of the evening background.  The characters are in a high key value meaning that they are much lighter than the background and it has the same visual effect on you as a blinking red light.  The characters become a magnet for the eye and you simply can’t look anywhere else.


Mary uses the balustrades, the vertical supports to stairway railings, as a rhythmic element that also leads the eye to the characters.  The balustrades are serpentine, parallel, and repeat shapes in a hypnotic way but they lead your focus to the dancers.  If we didn’t have the color and values to help us focus on the characters, the lines of the balustrades would do the job by themselves.  The shapes in the illustration are soft, rounded, and gentle lending to the romantic elements of the scene.  Together the color, rhythm, shape, line, values all work together to create visual harmony and the story of love’s first dance. When I see an illustration like this, I think of it as an orchestration of musical elements and Mary’s violin was perfectly tuned and she did not play one sour note in this visual symphony.


Walt Disney was enchanted by Mary’s work and asked her to work on It’s a Small World for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  She worked in collage, using cut papers and tissues, paint, and inks that created the playful and childlike colors that she wanted for the attraction.  Her sensitivity to shape, size, and color is one of the powerful and lasting design aspects of It’s a Small World, a Disneyland attraction in which the world is designed to be seen through the eyes of a child. In building this attraction, Mary worked with production designer Rolly Crump who instinctively knew that Mary’s designs would work best if they were enlarged and over sized as seen as a child might view them.  Once the sets were completed, Mary and Rolly walked the attraction and felt that one last color touch was needed to create the magical world of a child.  They got buckets of white glue, as many brushes as they could find, and pails of colored sparkle flitter.  The two nights before opening, they could be found adding just the right sparkle to the attraction. As a color stylist and designer, Mary moved easily between the worlds of film, theme parks, advertising, and book illustration.