MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: The World of Mary Blair – Photo Tour!

Last weekend, I took Patrick to San Francisco on a birthday trip to the Walt Disney Family Museum to see the exhibition MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: The World of Mary Blair. I intend to do a full trip report on the experience for those who’ve been thinking about visiting the museum, including lots of photos of the permanent collection (which now allows photography!) and our experience at the Marc Davis exhibition (which doesn’t). But since the Mary Blair exhibition is only there through September 7, 2014 and you know how long it takes me to finish these things, I want to do a separate post on that today.

As usual, this will be an exhaustive (and exhausting!) overview with a million-bazillion photos. So if you’re already going and don’t want spoilers but DO want to know what kind of Mary Blair merchandise they have in the museum gift shop, CLICK HERE!

The Exhibition

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located in San Francisco’s Presidio, a 1,500-acre former military base inside the world’s largest urban national park. More on that in the trip report! There are banners out front advertising the Mary Blair exhibition and tempting me to steal them.

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The exhibition is set up in a separate building out behind the museum. If you bought your ticket ahead of time or are a museum member, you can go straight there. If you went into the museum to buy your ticket, step off the front porch and head to the right, then hang another right when you get to the gorgeous purple flowers humming with bees, and head straight on til morning…. er, til you see the building!


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Before you round the corner to the front door, you are likely to notice the jaw-dropping proximity of the Golden Gate Bridge and sprint across two lanes of traffic to get some pictures.

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The bridge played peekaboo for most of our trip, even on otherwise clear and sunny days. But it still made for some cool photos!

OK, what were we doing just then…? Ah, yes! Mary Blair!

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I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally be able to take photos at the Walt Disney Family Museum! We first toured the Mary Blair exhibition without shooting anything so we could fully absorb it, and then we went back for snaps.

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The exhibition is spread over two levels, and you start on the ground floor, but I wanted to give you an overview of the layout first.

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Guest curator John Canemaker organized the exhibition chronologically, so the first section talks about Blair’s early influences at Chouinard School of Art, which Walt and Roy Disney later helped merge with the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to form California Institute of the Arts. 

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My favorite of Mary Blair’s early works

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The next room focuses on the creative epiphany of Blair’s trip to South America with Walt and El Grupo. The vintage-style TV screen plays clips from Saludos Amigos, and the cheerful samba music echoes throughout the exhibit. It creates a wonderful atmosphere for the experience.

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The first section of the exhibit showed the heavy influence of one of her teachers on Blair’s early work, which makes the contrast with her work during the South American tour even stronger. While her earlier watercolors are quite accomplished, the vibrancy of her South American paintings seems to show her coming to life.

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LOVE this quote! It’s Mary Blair in a nutshell.

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The next room features two paintings that Walt Disney commissioned for Carmen Miranda, who displayed them in her home for many years.

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This is a great example of the masterful selection of wall colors for each section of the exhibition. Somehow they were able to choose shades that set every image on each wall off to perfection.

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The quote on this wall is part of a bittersweet assessment made by Marc Davis: “This woman was an extraordinary artist who spent most of her life being misunderstood. All the men [who] were there, their design was based on perspective. Mary did things on marvelous flat planes. Walt appreciated this and wanted to see this but he, not being an artist himself, was never able to instruct the men on how to use this … it was tragic because she did things that were so marvelous and never got on the screen.”

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This was the first Mary Blair creation I fell in love with, before I was old enough to know who she was.

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This was described as one of the “very few artworks of Disney characters displayed in the Disney home,” which says a lot about the admiration Walt had for Blair.

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I think the Peter Pan section was my favorite. Those colors!

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No, wait! THIS one’s my favorite!

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No, THIS one!

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Gah!!! They’re ALL my favorite!

The staircase to the upper level of the exhibition features a ginormous banner and two wall decals of Blair’s concept for the Grand Canyon Concourse mural at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. If those had been in the gift shop, I would have gladly handed over my wallet.

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The hall outside the exhibit had a display on the Grand Canyon Concourse mural, plus a sketchbook for leaving your own thoughts and illustrations after seeing the show.

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Disney would make a mint if they sold reproductions of this tile study.

The second floor focuses on Blair’s career after she left Disney in 1953 to freelance and raise her family. This includes her art for Little Golden Books, advertising art and display art.

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I hereby declare Mary Blair the first person ever to Put a Bird On It!

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Cutaway art is Patrick’s favorite!

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This was one of my favorite pieces in the exhibit—Mary Blair’s hard hat! It’s like all of her panache summed up in a single object.

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The rafters were strung with clever cutouts of her art.

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Blair family Christmas cards. Can you imagine getting one of THESE in the mail?

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I was still thinking about that hard hat at this point so I may have missed the gist, but I believe these pieces were created by Blair and Rolly Crump when they worked together on “it’s a small world” for the New York World’s Fair.

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In 1963, a decade after she left Disney, Blair was hired by Walt to design “it’s a small world.” At last he’d found a project where her unadulterated vision would be displayed in the final product.

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Even though we’d seen other conceptual drawings of Blair’s in the exhibition, something about these two sketchbooks really made an impression that these were things Mary Blair had touched. Maybe it’s the handwritten notes, or maybe it’s the because these loose sketches were translated almost exactly in the finished ride.

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OK, Disney Consumer Products, if you don’t want to re-create that tile study, how about this mosaic?

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The last section was devoted to art Blair created for her friends and family. If you like it, a lot of the images turn up later on items in the gift shop!

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If I remember correctly, she painted the little girl for Marc and Alice Davis, and then they won the painting of the little boy in a charity auction. Or maybe she gave it to them a little while later. Guess you’ll have to go to San Francisco to find out!

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Back in the main museum building, downstairs near the theater, classroom and restrooms, they have a small exhibit about the “it’s a small world”-inspired mural Mary Blair did for the Jules Styne Eye Institute, as well as a permanent display of her art cart.

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Blair’s glasses, like her hard hat, made a big impression on me. Seeing something she actually wore makes it seem like she could walk into the room at any moment!

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Even the floor is a tribute to Mary Blair!

Right this way to the gift shop…

The Merchandise

I was really looking forward to seeing what kind of Mary Blair-inspired merchandise I could snap up in the gift shop, so I took a ton of photos in case you are too! Unfortunately, most of my favorite work of hers belongs to Walt Disney Imagineering, so the museum wasn’t able to license it for products. Many of the Disney-commissioned art products they do have appear to be leftovers from the Japanese exhibit of her work a few years ago. Everything else comes from pieces in the museum’s collection, so if you liked the art she created early in her career and for her family, you’re in luck!

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After we stopped laughing at the cover, we snapped up this tome on Disney matte painter extraordinaire Peter Ellenshaw for far less than you’ll find it on Amazon (and even a bit less than on the book’s official website). The Walt Disney Family Museum member discount didn’t hurt, either!

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I alllllmost went for these, but while the earrings were less than $25, the necklace was a whopping $50.

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This was another almost-purchase because it was one of the few pieces of straight-up art. But we finally decided it was not our favorite piece of hers and a bit too gloomy to complement the exuberant Western River Expedition concept art in our dining room.

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This I had to buy because it reminded me of our trip to Japan, The Place Where You’re Never Sure You’ll Get a Paper Towel in the John. Also, the art is awesome!

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There’s also a small selection of Marc Davis art souvenirs.

The Food

But the absolute BEST souvenir you will find at MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: The World of Mary Blair is the museum cafe’s Mary Blair S’more. Snap one up early—they sometimes sell out!

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Bye, Mary Blair! Thanks for all the art!


No tags 16 Comments 0
16 Responses
  • Claire (Chilly)
    July 8, 2014

    Great exhibition. Love the Peter Pan ones, Freya’s nursery is Peter Pan themed and I’m just doing her 1st birthday invites and they are Peter Pan as well. Off to read the TR now.

    • Carrie
      July 8, 2014

      Oooh! What a great theme for the nursery!

  • Hope at Disneyland
    June 25, 2014

    I’m so glad you went and took pics! I really want to go to the museum specifically for this exhibit but I don’t think we’ll get a chance to. 🙁 I appreciate the virtual tour though. The Little House and Susie Coupe are my favorites. I was really hoping they’d have stuff for them in the gift shop since it’s so rare to find ANYTHING with them on it. The closest I got was these plushes at D23 Expo but they were tiny and too expensive. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post and am looking forward to the rest of the trip report whenever you get around to write it and post it. 😀

    • Carrie
      June 25, 2014

      Thanks, Hope! Now I wanna go look up those plushes—I must’ve missed them at the Expo!

  • Jennifer F
    June 24, 2014

    Ah-maz-ing! Thanks for sharing that! I can’t imagine what it was like seeing the art in person. Its a good thing I won’t be going to the exhibit, my wallet would never recover from the gift store. 🙂

    • Carrie
      June 24, 2014

      Tee-hee! I totally hear you on that one!

  • Maria
    June 20, 2014

    Love love love this! Mary Blair is one of my favorite Disney artists! Thanks for sharing (so glad you could take pics). Can’t wait to hear more about the trip. Dying to go back to San Francisco!

    • Carrie
      June 20, 2014

      Glad you liked it!

  • Sarah Thurman
    June 19, 2014

    Awesome! I feel like I was there!!!

    • Carrie
      June 19, 2014

      Then I’ve done my job. 🙂

  • Eileen Johnson
    June 18, 2014

    Did you eat the top of the s’more?
    I really enjoyed your tour of the exhibit.
    Wonderful photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.
    How was your hotel stay?

    • Carrie
      June 18, 2014

      Yes! It was white chocolate. The hotel was fabulous—more on that in the trip report I’m working on. I’ll tell your son you liked his pix!

  • Tim
    June 17, 2014

    What an amazing exhibit! Thank you for taking so many photos because I probably won’t get to see this in person either. Massively cool stuff all around.

    Also, I think music from Saludos Amigos is the perfect accompaniment to just about anything.

    • Carrie
      June 17, 2014

      🙂 I agree!

  • Carol Palmer
    June 17, 2014

    Since I won’t be able to actually go to see the exhibit, this was a fantastic “tour” for me! I always love your humor infused writing too. 🙂

    • Carrie
      June 17, 2014

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Carol!

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