Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Color Icons" Mary Blair

Last week I went to the Walt Disney Family Museum located in The Presidio of San Francisco. The personal evolution of Walt Disney and the Disney Studios is chronicled in amazingly creative interactive displays. I was delighted to discover the sophisticated color work of one of his key collaborators, Mary Blair.

Image: The Colors of Mary Blair, Walt Disney Animation Research Library Collection

Mary Blair was born into a poor family in Oklahoma in 1911, moving first to Texas and then west to San Jose, California when she was 7. Blair's artistic skills were evident at a very early age. Her mother supported the family by sewing for the neighbors as well as for the local churches. With remnants, clothes were fashioned for Blair that according to biographers were both colorful and stylish.

Image: Cartoon Modern –

Blair won an art scholarship to Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles . She graduated at the height of the Depression in 1933. The economic climate forced her to abandon her dream of a fine arts career. She took a job in the animation unit at MGM Studios. She married an artist and continued to develop her color eye. Blair started using her fine arts training to inform her work in animation.

In 1940, Disney recruited Blair where she worked under the title of color stylist and designer for 30 years. Her collaborators described her exciting use of color on a par with Matisse. She painted color compositions using complex tertiary hues. She would place two different chromatic intensities of color next to one another which was revolutionary for animation at that time.

Image: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker – Disney Editions

Her inventive palettes of muddy colors with pure colors created a visual tension that heightened the sense of drama. Her Peter Pan and Cinderella colorations shaped the future of Disney animated features.

Image: Cartoon Modern –

Disney asked her to create the character design of It’s a Small World, for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Image: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker – Disney Editions

After she left Disney, she continued to apply her original and distinctive color skills to free lance mural design, graphic design and the illustration of children’s books.

To give you an insight into Blair’s character, here are two excerpts I found.

Joyce Carson who worked with Mary Blair was interviewed by Disney Historian Jim Korkis.

“Mary sewed and designed her own distinctively stylish, color coordinated clothes. She had lots of glasses and a lot of different colored contact lenses as well. She used to coordinate her eyewear to go with the outfit she was wearing that day."

John Canemaker, tenured professor and director of the film animation program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, authored The Flair of Mary Blair. “Blair juggled her family and creative life. She postponed starting a family until she was thirty six. Even after the birth of her second child three and a half years later, Mrs. Blair continued create dazzling color compositions.”

Image: Cartoon Modern –

Blair died in 1978. She was the very first woman to be honored as a Disney Legend. I would like to think she will be remembered for her prolific and joyful creativity, her exuberant color palette, and her pioneering spirit as a woman in the arts.

Image: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker – Disney Editions

The Colors of Mary Blair

Walt Disney Animation Research Library Collection

The Art and Flair of Mary Blair

John Canemaker – Disney Editions

Cartoon Modern –

Disney Legends –

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Color Icons" Diana Vreeland

Emerald Carroll, our new associate in Manhattan, suggested I start a series of blog posts on “Color Icons”. With such a colorful name, I decided to follow her advice.

The “Color Icons” posts will be featuring individuals who have left their mark on the world due to their specific interest, passion, research, and writings on color. I am starting the series with Diana Vreeland, a woman of exceptional personal style and a deep love for the color red.

Image: Diana's Dining Room

Diana Vreeland fascinated me from the moment I saw her rebellious “youthquake” mini skirted models featured in Vogue in the 60’s. She was the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar from 1937 to 1962. In 1962 she left Harpers to become editor in chief of Vogue. She built a reputation for allowing photographers, stylists and models to do what they do best - be creative. In 1972 she was fired from Vogue for being a troublesome perfectionist.

Image: Vogue Covers

She is described as having an incredible aura of glamour, and a startling personal style. She oozed enthusiasm, vitality and pizzazz and could hold an audience captive with her provocative and fantastic stories.

Image: Diana at Black Tie Event

She consciously matched her personality with her environments, surrounding herself with dynamic and powerful red.

She worked out of a red lacquered office, smoked constantly, ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch and chased it down with a shot of scotch.

Diana’s friend Horst P. Horst photographed her in her living room designed by Billy Baldwin. Diana referred to the room as her “Garden In Hell.”

Image: Diana in "Garden In Hell" Living Room

Diana is quoted as stating “ All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. I want Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist Temple.”

She embraced red in all forms - red walls, sofas, pillows, and chairs. She surrounded herself with large vases of red flowers and would only pen her notes with red ink. She was frequently photographed dressed head to toe in the hue.

Diana went on to establish her own job title at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the ‘special consultant’ to the Museum’s Costume Institute. She staged nine fantastic shows including Costumes and Designs of the Ballet Russes, The World of Balenciaga, and Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design.

When Vreeland became blind in the mid 1980’s she stated it was because she had looked at so many beautiful things. I can only imagine she still saw the world through a red lens.

Vreeland, a style icon of historic proportion fully realized the power of color. Diana died in1989.

Image: Diana at the Metropolitan Costume Institute


Diana Vreeland

By Eleanor Dwight

William Morrow an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers

Diana Vreeland

By Diana Vreeland

Alfred A. Knopf Publisher