Looking At It’s A Small World, Seeing Modern Art

The iconic facade and sets of Disneyland’s It’s a Small World attraction were designed in the late 1960′s and bear the unmistakable markings of that time (and the couple proceeding decades). But I wanted specifics. What had Mary Blair, the attraction’s main designer, been exposed to that may have inspired the famous styling of that ride? Here’s a sampling of what I found:

Top image below: Mary Blair, Small World concept art, 1965. And below, two pieces by Auguste Herbin, 1951 and 1950, that are undeniably similar to Blair’s work.013008maryblairshapes.jpgBelow is a collage by Ray Eames in 1949. Besides a similar styling to Blair, the collage technique and use of transparent layers was something Blair would later use in many of her Small World collages.013008eamescollage.jpgBelow is another Blair illustration, and below that, a Paul Klee painting, Burg und Sonne, 1928013008maryblairklee1.jpgI saw many similarities between Klee and Blair, like the three images below. The first image, Klee’s Landscape with Yellow Birds, 1932, uses leaf shapes seen in the Blair piece below it. The third piece is also a Klee and has some subtle similarities to the work above it.013008maryblairklee2.jpgThe Small World attraction debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair with a an enormous kinetic sculpture at the entrance called the Tower of the Four Winds (second image below). Designed by Rolly Crump but I see inspiration in an unproduced Do Nothing solar-powered kinetic toy designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1957 (first image below).012808eamestower.jpgAnd lastly it seems It’s a Small World continues to inspire others, like perhaps Rex Ray (second image below) whose work possesses the same sense of retro-whimsy seen in Blair’s art for the finale scene in the attraction (below).013008maryblairrexray.jpgSEE ALSO MY: Patty Wickman Paints Women Wrestling and I’m All Hey that’s from Epcot

6 Responses to “Looking At It’s A Small World, Seeing Modern Art”

  1. Donn B. Murphy Says:

    This is very sophisticated and convincing art history research. Mary Blair seems to have made these Klee, Eames and other inspirations her own, while drawing on them not to create personal art per se, but to devise inspirational concepts for a theme park.

    The most unflattering construction to put on Justin’s discoveries would imply plagiarism on the part of Ms. Blair. The more charitable reaction is to conclude that a Disney artist did intelligent research, and was in touch with some of the best and most advanced ideas in modern art during the years precedin the creation of IT’S A SMALL WORLD.

    Considerable credit must go to the Imagineers who took her ideas, notablythe gorgeous “final scene” maquette, and translated them faithfully into the sparkling, animated scenes which give pleasure to thousands of Disney guests hour after hour, 365 days each year, in parks across the world.

  2. Craig Says:

    Exquisite research, and fascinating all around!

  3. Thomas Says:

    Yowsa. Amazing research. I know about Mary Blair from the show that the Canadian Centre for Arch organized in 1998, The Architecture of Reassurance. I saw the show here in NY at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. That catalogue is a prized possession, in which Mary’s concept art is well documented. I love Justin that you took it to the next level looking at Klee and Eames. Of course, ideas don’t come out of nowhere. But the good ones get re-adapted and that’s what you are onto here. Love it!

  4. andrew orton Says:

    this is some very astute research, much kudos. i was struck by the thought that mary blair was undoubtable influenced by paul klee only this afternoon when looking at her painting ” young girl with sundae” and decided to look for other evidence on the net, only to find youve done it for me! hahaha. thank you. i would take the view that she was at least as skilfull as klee (my all time favourite artist) in portraying childlike joy and wonder, but that her output and her artistic advance was hampered by the constraints of being a comercial graphic artist. a shame, as she had the talent to be one of the centuries great names in art. i am not trying to deride her work, i am a huge fan of hers. stealing/ being influenced by other artists is commonplace – there are many stories of artists hiding their latest work when picasso came visiting their studio!

  5. Thomas Says:

    I find it odd that some comments cite plagarism. I find it more to be a case of zeitgeist and cross fertilization of art and design fields within a particular moment. I wonder if the pre-historic painters at Lascaux caves accused one another of being trendy?

  6. Thomas Says:

    Gosh, this was so obvious! Does anybody else see Lari Pittman’s secret receipe in all of this?

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