A Brightly Burning Trailblazer

March 1, 2017

I pursued an art history minor in college, and if you’ve had the chance to take any art-history survey classes yourself then you’ve likely been sold the same bill of goods I was: When it comes to historically influential artists or illustrators, boys rule the school. Society has certainly taken strides to dispel this myth, but the truth is that there’s still plenty of work to be done before creative women throughout history get the respect and admiration they so rightly deserve. March is Women’s History Month, and in the spirit of celebrating the tremendous contributions of female artists throughout the centuries, I’ve elected to highlight one of my personal faves: Mary Blair.

An exhibition portrait of Mary Blair at work in her studio.

If you’re over the age of five, it’s likely that Mary Blair has had at least some influence over your fundamental development, especially when it comes to your understanding of which star to follow on your way to Neverland or whether or not a pumpkin can be turned into a royal coach. Her work is characterized by bright colors, charming characters, approachable forms and unabashedly spirited world-building.

Although not necessarily a household name in her own time, Mary Blair was an illustrator, artist and all-around creative dynamo. She was almost singularly responsible for the fantastically colorful development of the worlds that came to life in Disney classics like “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Alice in Wonderland.” Beyond her work on Disney films, she also designed numerous murals and installations throughout the Magic Kingdom — including “It’s a Small World” and the Tomorrowland Promenade.

Below are just a few samples of her awe-inspiring work — no doubt a lot of it will look familiar.

After her time at Disney ended, she took on freelance work with such international brands as Nabisco, Maxwell House and Simon & Schuster. She even developed several sets for the Christmas and Easter shows performed at Radio City Music Hall.

A book is set to be released in tribute of her creative life and passions. Pocket Full of Colors is slated to be released in late August 2017 and it’s currently available for pre-order here. If there’s someone in your life who could use a bit of feminine inspiration (and couldn’t we all), then this might be a perfect gift. You better believe I’ve got mine on order already.