MAGIC COLOR FLAIR
the world of
Tuesday, March 11, 2014, was the date for the invitation-only dedication of the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. The newly dedicated exhibit hall houses the Mary Blair Exhibit, appropriately entitled MAGIC COLOR FLAIR, the world of MARY BLAIR. It was an incredible evening on different levels of the museum including the dedication of the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall – with most of the Miller family present – and a new, comprehensive exhibit of Mary Blair art. The majority of the artwork in the exhibition was acquired from the estate of Mary Blair by Diane Disney Miller and the museum foundation. There were many pieces from private collectors as well.
Press were invited in the afternoon to view the exhibit and interview renowned curator, John Canemaker, who flew out from NYC for the event. Also available for interviews were the nieces and executresses of Mary Blair’s estate, Maggie Richardson and Jeanne Chamberlain, as well as Jeanne’s son, Kevin Allinson, (Mary’s great nephew.)
Maggie was dressed in an ankle length shocking pink silk skirt topped off with a black velvet beaded jacket that had once belonged to Mary, who had worn it at a Cal Arts fund raiser in the home of Roy Disney in 1969. Alice Davis had commented that “if you knew Maggie, you knew Mary” as they had the same personality – and were the same size, too. Jeanne also wore a piece of Mary’s legacy – her black jet beads. Both Maggie and Jeanne had been given several items of Mary’s clothing and jewelry by Lee Blair, following Mary’s death in 1978.
There was a private group photo session inside the exhibit hall of all the Miller family with a professional photographer. Politely I refrained from reaching for my camera but I admit my fingers were itching. My reprieve came when Joanna Miller, knowing my love of photography, called out “Scarlett, take some pictures”. I admit I was delighted to have her permission and lost no time in complying. The Mary Blair family was invited to join in some of the photos.
I had been careful not to interfere with the professional photographer and admit that I was overjoyed when the moment was recreated outside on the steps of the Hall and I had more room to focus on all of them. Ron Miller made a speech dedicating the exhibition hall to his wife, Diane Disney Miller, who had passed away on November 19, 2013. Ron said that she would have hated the idea of having the hall named after her. However I know her family, friends and fans felt it was befitting such a wonderful and unique woman. I had only met her once, last spring. She was a direct, gracious and refreshing breath of fresh air. Alice Davis had said that Diane Disney Miller was just like her father, Walt Disney. You could sense the love there for this incredible woman from her large family and wide circle of friends. It is my understanding that her children, along with her husband, intend to continue to promote the growth of the Walt Disney Family Museum, which was opened to the public to show Walt Disney as a real person and not just a corporate image.
The invited guests enjoyed circulating throughout the exhibit hall, which encompassed two levels and also enjoyed visiting with friends and family along the way. Many stopped and just gazed at art that particularly attracted them.
There was an interesting picture with jeweled eyes that was done jointly by Mary Blair and Rolly Crump. A darling Alice in Wonderland, dressed in red, had belonged to Lillian Disney. Yes, I am a Mary Blair fan and particularly love her unique color as well as her chubby cherubic children.
And there was one watercolor which belongs to Alice Davis, which I have always coveted, of a little girl with her white cat. When Maggie Richardson first told me about the planned exhibit, I had forwarded a picture I had taken of it in Alice’s home. Maggie forwarded it to John Canemaker, who is the curator of the exhibit and he arranged with Alice for its loan!! And now I was delighted to buy it pictured on a business card holder in the gift shop and have it displayed on a stand in my curio cabinet. I think, as many others do, that Mary’s art is timeless. And I am not saying that because her niece, Maggie, is my friend. Mary’s art simply makes me happy.
Some of the well known guests seen were Don Hahn (artist, producer, director), Pete Docter (writer, animator, director), Alice Davis (Imagineer and Disney Legend), Tyrus Wong (animator and Disney Legend), Ted Thomas (producer and director of documentaries Walt and El Grupo, Frank and Ollie, etc), Mike and Patty Peraza (animator and art director of Little Mermaid), Paula Sigman Lowery (author and historian), David Derks (Fox producer and ASIFA-Hollywood Board member), Sam Gennawey (MiceChat author and Disney historian), Becky Cline (Director of the Walt Disney Archives at the Walt Disney Studios), Fabrizio Mancinelli (composer), Mindy Johnson (author), to name a few.
The appearance of so many Disney luminaries, the musicians, the lavish food array of hors d’oeuvres such as sushi and also Italian delicacies also added to the richness of the event.
I admit I relied upon one of Joanna Miller’s sons, Sebastian, to enlighten me as to what some of the hors d’oeuvres were as I do have some allergies. Sebastian, who resembles Diane Disney Miller in appearance, seemed very outgoing like his mother Joanna. I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with his brother, Nick, who more closely resembles his mother, Joanna, and his grandfather, Ron Miller. However it appeared that everyone in the family had marked resemblances to one or the other of their parents so there are certainly strong genetics in this family. I had met Jenny previously and mistook Tammy for Jenny!!!! They are a lovely family.
The hors d’oeuvres were followed by additional tables laden with carved roast beef, chicken and vegetables with wine from the Miller’s Silverado winery, fit for kings and queens, as well as other beverages. And there were tables of numerous various desserts. No one left hungry and I am sure many overate with such a lavish display at the celebration.
The gift shop was filled with Mary Blair items and it was obviously doing a great business, with a large crowd waiting their turn to pay for their purchases. And more items are still being added.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Mary (Robinson) Blair studied at the Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles. She married another artist, Lee Everett Blair and they worked at the Ub Iwerks Studio, later moving to the Walt Disney Studios. Mary worked on art for Dumbo, an early version of Lady and the Tramp, and a second version of Fantasia which was not released until the late 1990s. Both Mary and Lee joined Walt and Lillian Disney and other Disney artists on a research tour, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s good neighbor policy.
Mary and Lee worked on concept art for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, with Mary credited as art supervisor on those films. She also drew concept art for Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. She created character designs for Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, as well as a massive mosaic inside the Contemporary Resort. Some of her illustrated children’s books still remain in print. She also worked on advertisements, and theatrical set designs. Mary was known as one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists for her inspired use of color, simple graphics and emotions.
John Canemaker was curator of the Mary Blair exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum and is an internationally known historian, teacher, and animator. His film, The Moon and the Son, won an Oscar in 2005 for Best Animated Short as well as an Emmy. He is a professor and executive director of the Animation Department at New York University. He is author of nine books, including the Mary Blair Exhibit catalogue, which is available now in the WDFM gift shop, and will be available soon on at Amazon.com.
Quote by John Canemaker:
I was delighted by the wonderful opening on March 11 of the Mary Blair exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Finally, after more than a year of planning it all came together beautifully, in my opinion. I think it is one of the most comprehensive showings of Mary Blair’s work in this country.
The artworks include rarities from Mary’s student days at Chouinard; her fine art California Water-Color Society paintings; concepts from the classic Disney films she contributed so much to; her advertising and clothing designs; her Golden Book illustrations; and examples of the large scale, three-dimensional theme park attractions, such as It’s A Small World. And they’re all in the exhibition’s elegant catalogue.
I loved being with so many friends that evening, especially the amazing legends Tyrus Wong and Alice Davis, both of whom are inspirations as people and as artists.
It was also a bittersweet occasion because we all missed our beloved Diane Disney Miller, who originated the idea of a Mary Blair exhibit for the museum. Ron Miller gave a brave and moving speech when he and the Miller family dedicated the Diane Disney Miller Exhibition Hall, where the Blair exhibit resides.
Quote by Maggie Richardson:
My sister and I are extremely happy that so much of Mary’s art now lives at the Walt Disney Family Museum – to be preserved and shared with generations to come….really a dream-come-true for us. Diane began to envision a Mary Blair exhibition several years ago; then, nearly two years ago, she began to set the wheels in motion — and here it is today in all its dazzle and splendor!! I think both Diane and Mary would heartily approve!
Quote by Jeanne Chamberlain:
When I was 9 years old Mary invited me and my best friend to spend a week with her in Los Angeles. She took us to the Brown Derby for lunch and then to Carmen Miranda’s home to see a mural she had just done for Carmen’s wall. It was special then but I was SO excited to see it again on the wall of the Walt Disney Family Museum for Mary’s exhibition – it was like coming home “again.
Quote by Joanna Miller:
I am absolutely in love with Mary’s family. Maggie, Jeanne and Kevin. They are so full of warmth and pride in their Aunt’s work. I feel she would be so proud that they have cherished and protected her art for all time. At least for our time right now; it is here and we are lucky to be inspired by such creative style and playful art as Mary has left for them and us to learn from and enjoy.
MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair is on view from March 13 to September 7, 2014
The Walt Disney Family Museum
104 Montgomery Street
The Presidio, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA 94129