Happy UN Day! Celebrating Mary Blair’s Small World

small world ride
Today is United Nations Day. Let’s celebrate the art of Mary Blair because it’s a small world after all.
 
Mary Blair and Walt Disney
 
The official motto of the 1964 New York World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding.” Walt Disney was charged with developing an attraction for the Pepsi-sponsored fair pavilion to salute and benefit UNICEF, the United Nations program created to provide assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. Walt turned to his former employee, artist Mary Blair, to spearhead the project knowing that this would be a perfect fit for her aesthetic. She had proven her artistic brilliance on movies such as The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Mary provided a breath of fresh air in an industry dominated by men.
 
mary blair design
 
Mary Blair’s designs are immediately recognizable. They are simplistic and childlike but strikingly modern and sophisticated. Her daring use of bold often dissonant colors and abstract shapes is so appealing that her art continues to garner new fans across the globe today. Walt said that Mary knew about colors that he had never heard of and he appreciated her modernist sensibility as he was surrounded by artists who tended toward realism.
 
small world model
 
In just nine months the small group of artists collaborated to create a ride that proved to be one of the most popular at the World’s Fair. The attraction was a boat ride through a world populated by audio-animatronic children elaborately garbed in native costumes. Mary’s conceptual designs provided the inspiration and framework for the overall tone of the attraction. It’s a Small World was the perfect vehicle for her whimsical artwork and vibrant colors.
 
small world ride
 
Many of the World’s Fair attractions were disassembled or left for scrap. Fortunately, this one was transferred to Disneyland in Anaheim following the close of the fair and then duplicated years later at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and the other Disney parks. For ten minutes you can still feel the peace, unity and return to innocence that was desperately desired in the years immediately following the JFK assassination and the Cuban Missile crisis. The message is loud and clear and no less relevant today. “It’s a Small World” has become a catchphrase for things that have a personal connection in an unexpected place. Mary Blair was the genius behind this feast for the eyes that stays with you long after the song stops playing over and over in your head.
 
small world models
 
“This is the most interesting job I’ve ever had. The results are more delightful than anything I’ve tried before” — Mary Blair referring to It’s a Small World.
 
Guest author Cindy Funk doesn’t just know her mid century printed textile design, she shares it with the world as the proprietor of online shop NeatoKeen, the absolute go-to place for collectors and lovers of vintage tea towels, tablecloths, hankies, fabrics and collectibles.  Here’s a small, small glimpse of the fabulous selection Cindy currently has available for sale:

 

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5 comments

  1. bonjour, this article has impressed me very much. Indeed, I ever Admired Mr Walt Disney. To me, Not only a Genius but he was also very “aware” of Human Experience and Behaviour; the Good, The Bad, the Ugly…
    I’m pleased to get to know of Mary Blair, what a Great Lady, especially well inspired and Talented. For sure : “Mary Blair was the genius behind this feast for the eyes that stays with you long after the song stops playing over and over in your head.” Merci beaucoup Cindy for sharing your Awesome article!

  2. “Feast for the eyes” is the perfect descriptor of Mary Blair’s talent, Cindy. Thank you for taking the time to introduce us all to her work. I thoroughly enjoyed your article.

  3. What a wonderful article Cindy! As a kid who grew up going to Disneyland once a year,It’s a Small World was my favorite ride and still is. And you can’t help but having that iconic song run through your head for the rest of the day once you have been there.

    Thanks for the great memories! Now I need to look for more of MaryBlair’s artwork.

  4. This was a great post. Loved the history and the artful pictures. I had no idea where the phrase “It’s a Small World” originated.

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