Monday, October 24, 2011

The Contemporary Resort and Mary Blair

Mary Blair is one of the better known women to have worked for Walt Disney and is known primarily for her work on It's A Small World and, more dear to the hearts of the PFTP staff, the 90 ft. high mural inside Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort.

Mary was born on October 21, 1911 and began her animation career with the Ub Iwerks studio after graduate studies at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. Mary joined her husband, Lee Blair, at the  Walt Disney Studios in 1940. Mary's close relationship with the Disney family was forged on the very interesting Good Neighbor tour of South American countries with Walt and Lillian in 1941. (Please see 'Walt and El Grupo' for more information on this tour and the problems Walt faced during the war at home.)

Throughout her career at the Disney Studios, Mary was a concept artist, color stylist, and an art supervisor for a large number of films. However, she left the studio in 1953 only to return and this second phase of her Disney career cemented her legacy. During her absence from the Walt Disney Studios in the '50s Mary spent time working for commercial advertising clients. It was her success here, and her previous work on films ranging from Fantasia to Cinderella to Peter Pan and many shorts that led Walt to ask her to contribute to the World's Fair effort. Mary soon began work on the Pepsi-Cola sponsored pavilion, which benefited UNICEF, along with Rolly Crump and the iconic attraction never looked back.

In the end, Mary Blair became synonymous for her work on the 1964 World's Fair and the It's A Small World attraction. In addition to this immediately recognizable attraction Mary is also widely known for her mosaic murals in Disneyland's Tomorrowland (many of which are gone and/or covered over) and at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort. The mural at WDW is striking just for its size, which encompasses the entirety of the central elevator bay. It depicts a stepped mound with Native American children and animals, all instantly recognizable as her work in 12" x 12" squares.

The mural has four sides; the north and south faces display children and animals while the east and west faces, smaller and less detailed, depict children and larger animals. Each side has numerous items to view and, in the end, it's an amazing feat of sculpture.

Each tile has raised surfaces with incredible detail that's best experienced up close. Perhaps the best place to see just how raised these tiles are is directly across from Fantasia gift shop, in the central area of the main tower. From here, directly to the left of the Grand Canyon Concourse escalator leading to the monorail station on the 5th floor, you can see this wonderful owl. Alternatively, you can view tiles directly above the order kiosks at the Contempo Café.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the mural is Blair's five-legged goat. According to multiple sources, Mary wanted people to remember nothing is perfect, hence the intentional mistake. PFTP hasn't been able to verify this statement but, nonetheless, it makes for an excellent 'Did you know?' moment for those not as familiar with Disney lore.

The next time you have a few minutes at the monorail station or are looking for something to do outside of the parks, head over to the Contemporary Resort and examine the mural in closer detail. You won't be disappointed.

These photographs were taken by the author in October, 2011.

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