Today is United Nations Day. Let’s celebrate the art of Mary Blair because it’s a small world after all.
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’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.
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.
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.
“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: