MARY BLAIR (1911-1978), "South American Women," 1941, watercolor on paper. The Hilbert Collection.
In 1941, Walt Disney took a group of his artists -- including Mary Blair and her husband Lee Blair -- on a goodwill trip to Latin America sponsored by the U.S. government.
With Europe embroiled in war, the U.S. was trying to halt the spread of fascist sentiment in its own hemisphere. And under President Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, who better as an ambassador, to represent the friendship of the United States to its southern neighbors, than Walt Disney?
“It was during this trip that Mary’s multiple artistic gifts coalesced into the vibrant and colorful style she is known for today,” comments animation director John Canemaker, a Blair expert. “It was an unexpected creative detonation that greatly influenced future Disney films and theme park attractions.”
Walt and Lillian Disney, Mary and Lee and other selected Disney artists – who quickly nicknamed themselves “El Grupo” – spent three months traveling through Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico, sketching and painting all the way. They soaked in the colors, sounds, fashions, music and rhythms of the countries they visited – and Mary, perhaps more than any of them, translated what she saw, heard and felt into vibrant images that pulse with life.
Two Disney feature films were directly inspired by the trip: "Saludos Amigos"(1942) and "The Three Caballeros" (1944).
That trip, more than any other experience Mary had ever had, helped her find her own unique “voice” as an artist. And Walt Disney, more than anyone else, noticed this. He took note of her unique use of vivid colors and her eclectic style, which combined an almost childlike naivety with utter sophistication.
As Mary herself would later say, “From ’41 on, I felt that I had found a place in the business.” And so she had. Walt would call on her to create designs, concept art and color concepts for some of the most famous movies of Disney's golden age, including "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan," as well as leading design work for the iconic ride "It's a Small World."
Today she is considered a top fan-favorite Disney artist, with a following more avid than she had in her lifetime. In 1991 she posthumously received the highest Disney honor of all upon being named a Disney Legend.
#hilbertmuseum #maryblair #disney #waltdisney #disneyart #disneyartist #southamerica #SaludosAmigos #threecaballeros #animation #animationart #museum #artmuseum #museumfromhome #chapmanuniversity