A different look at Disney...

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Design by Mary Blair

Editor's Note: Rarely more than a few days go by that I don't get asked at least one of the following questions: We miss Sue, when's her next column? When are the MiceAge archives going to be available? and Didn't you once do a piece on a Mary Blair mural not at a Disney park?

Today we kill three birds with one stone: Sue has been very busy, but has some wonderful new material in the works for you; We are still working on making the archives available (costs remain an issue for such a densely illustrated site); and we bring back online from those archives one of Sue's most requested articles which features the "lost" Mary Blair mural.

Since this is an archived piece from January 20, 2004 do note that some of the links below may no longer work, and some prices quoted may have changed. We may bring back online other materials occasionally until we make the archives available again. - Al Lutz

Design by Mary Blair

If you've opened every gift you received this holiday season (even the one that just arrived "late" from that distant cousin of yours) and still haven't quite found something you really like, I have a suggestion for you, John Canemaker's book, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair. Before I tell you why this book should be on your reading list though, I need to backtrack a bit and explain how I came to this conclusion.

Click to go to Amazon page on the book
Book cover - click for Amazon page on it

The book (shown above) has been out for a while but up till recently, I hadn't given it much of a look-see. Basically, it was of no interest to me. I am not, or I should say, was not, a Mary Blair fan. For me, the name Mary Blair conjures up images of big-headed children with perpetual smiles, incessantly singing a song that, once in one's brain, never leaves. To say small world is my least favorite Disneyland attraction is an understatement. I will ride it a couple of times during the holiday season when it's all gussied up in its holiday finery and that's it. Other than that, I consider it torture to have to go on that attraction.

When the book appeared, I thumbed through it, saw that it had some interesting pictures, looked at the price and said, "Forget it." At $40, it seemed a bit pricey to me. I'm not averse to spending $40 for a book, but for that much money, it ought to be a bit hefty. The art and flair of Mary Blair is only 110 pages, not exactly coffee table size. A slim tome on Mary Blair... I felt there were better choices I could make with my money.

Then a funny thing happened. A colleague brought up the subject of Mary Blair one day and our talk led to the discussion that there is a Mary Blair mural out at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. That discussion led me down a path I thought I'd never walk upon, it led me in search of Mary Blair, and what I found was fascinating. It made me want to know more. It made me a Mary Blair fan.

Mary Blair's family now has a website offering collectibles

It was kind of a revelation to discover that Mary Blair did something other than small world and the two murals that used to grace the entrance to Disneyland's Tomorrowland. I knew she was a Disney artist, but to what extent her involvement was with the Disney Company, I had no idea. Heck, at that point I wasn't even sure if she was alive or not, my knowledge was strictly limited to she worked for Disney; she created the look of small world. With that limited vision in mind, I headed out to UCLA to see what was there.

The Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA was established in 1966 and Mary Blair was commissioned to design a mural for the children's wing of the outpatient clinic. In my search for the mural, I got a little lost (the institute is a big place), but once I found the reception desk and inquired about it, I was quickly directed a short distance from the lobby to a small waiting room. And there it was, classic Mary Blair art, featuring big-headed international children, all in colorful costume, surrounded by flowers and vines and other whimsies.

The entire mural
The mural covers one wall of the waiting room

The Mary Blair mural adorns a wall in a room filled with boisterous children and their parents most of whom I'm sure have no idea what they are sitting in front of. As a Disney fan, it seemed kind of ironic to me that this big piece of Disney-related art sits on a wall that no one probably pays much attention to. But then again, perhaps that's the point. It softens the sterility found in most medical environments and makes the waiting room a little less imposing, more welcoming, more child-friendly.

Detail work
Here and below are some close-ups of the tiles

The mural is very charming but it is not huge. In fact, it's not nearly as big as I expected it to be. I guess I was thinking too much about the scale of the Tomorrowland murals. The thing about it that struck me the most though was not the size, but the textural quality of the ceramic tiles. This adds a dimensionality to the work and gives the mural an almost lacy feeling, making the tiles appear more delicate than clay tiles would normally appear.

Detail work

Perhaps the tiles on the Tomorrowland murals are textural too, but never having paid much attention to them, I had always thought of them as smooth. The result of this is that I just wanted to run my hands across the tiles. And being in a children's waiting room, I imagine lots of other hands have had the same impulse, as the mural is not in pristine condition, with some minor wear to tiles in the lower half of the mural. Or, it could just be that the mural is showing its 37 years.


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2004/2007 Sue Kruse

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