You might not know her name, but you definitely know her artwork. Mary Blair was one of the most prolific illustrators of the 20th century. She drew the concept art for Cinderella, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and more. When she wasn't creating iconic images for Disney, she illustrated several Little Golden Books, as well as designed popular ads for companies like Maxwell House and Nabisco. Her work is immortalized all over the planet, but especially at Disney, where her "It's A Small World" design still enthralls visitors, and these books illustrated by Mary Blair are the perfect addition to your Disney-loving home's bookshelf.
Born Mary Browne Robinson from McAlester, Oklahoma, Mary Blair won a scholarship to the Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles at age 20, where she studied illustrating, according to Disney. It was there that she would begin to hone her commercially viable art by working with her husband, Lee Blair, on a type of watercolor and illustration style of work popular during the Great Depression. Several years later, Blair would fall into her own unique style after taking a trip to South America where she would be inspired by the graphic bold geometric patterns so abundant in the everyday goods found in the region. It was then that she became one of the most sought-after illustrators in the world, working between Disney, Little Golden Books, and in many large companies' advertisements.
1. 'I Can Fly'
Most of us grew up reading Little Golden Books, and we never cared about who wrote them or who illustrated them. As adults, we can better appreciate the beautiful artwork and lyrical storytelling that goes into these stunning little stories. This one, I Can Fly, is as simple and short as they all are, but you can really see Blair's hand in the illustrations.
This is a re-issue of the classic Disney board book, and it could not be any more beautiful. The colors are more vibrant, the detail is sharp. This is exactly what you think of when you think of Disney's animated Cinderella. I am by no means an artist, but just looking at this genius makes me want to pick up a paintbrush or pen, and just start trying to make art.
3. 'The Art and Flair of Mary Blair (Updated Edition): An Appreciation (Disney Editions Deluxe)'
This book is Disney's love letter, or maybe a thank you note, to the legacy of Mary Blair. It features so much of her beautiful work, all in vivid color, with notes about what inspired which piece, how they are developed, and when they were drawn. It is gorgeous to look at, and everyone should have a copy in their library.
4. 'Baby's House'
I had this one growing up. It was one of my favorites. While the plotline isn't something I can bring up from memory, what I recall vividly was how I felt as it was read to me. It was at my grandmother's house, and she had this grand white sofa that overlooked the front yard, complete with a gold fountain of Venus. She'd tuck me into the corner of the sofa, one strong but petite arm wrapped snugly around me as she'd point to the different images and relayed to me how they matched with the words. Anytime I successfully recognized a sight word, she'd exclaim "Ohhhh, wonderful, Sparkle Eyes!" and clap her hands animatedly. I always chose this book because I thought the pictures were perfection. 30 years later, I know that they are.
5. 'Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland'
Alice in Wonderland is one of my all-time favorite children's stories. This version that features Mary Blair's epochal imagery is, for many of us, the first taste of the story that we encounter. We can all imagine the black haired, gnarly Queen of Hearts, or the Mad Hatter's ears popping up around his top hat. Alice's blue dress is perhaps the most memorable dress in all of Disney. It's unforgettable, in large part thanks to Mary Blair.