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Mary Blair and Disney’s It’s A Small World

Mary Blair was a celebrated artist and designer who played a pivotal role in shaping the look of Disney animation in the 1950s. She was responsible for designing some of the most iconic scenes in films like “Cinderella”, “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland.”  for over two decades. However, her most iconic work is undoubtedly the design of It’s A Small World at Disneyland.

Mary Blair Concept Art For Its A Small World
Mary Blair Concept Art For Its A Small World. Sold for $33,600 at Heritage Auctions, December 2019. The 20″ x 9″ gouache on board painting features subtle references to iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pyramids, Dutch Windmills and others all as seen through the artistic lens of this beloved Disney artist.

In 1963, she was asked to create a design for a new attraction at Disneyland called “It’s A Small World.” The attraction would feature animatronic dolls from around the world, singing a song with the same name. The ride, which debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, was an instant hit with its charming depiction of children from around the world singing and celebrating their diversity. The ride was eventually moved to Disneyland in Anaheim and finally opened on May 28, 1966.

Its a Small World Walt Disney Stamp Art Print
Its a Small World Walt Disney Stamp Art Print. Sold for $144 at Heritage Auctions, June 2018.  In September 1968, the United States Postal Authority issued its first Disney stamp, commemorating Walter Elias Disney’s (1901-1966) contributions to America and the world. A First Day ceremony was held in Disney’s boyhood home of Marceline, Missouri. This print, originally created in 1964 to commemorate the opening of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride is a combination of the work of two Disney artists — Paul Wenzel, who crafted Walt’s portrait; and Bob Moore, who drew the background design of the children from “It’s a Small World” emerging from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Blair’s bold use of color and geometric patterns helped to create a playful and inviting atmosphere that has become synonymous with the ride.  Inspired by folk art from around the world, Blair created a cheerful and colorful space that has delighted millions of guests over the years. She used a lot of primary colours and geometric shapes in her designs and she was greatly  influenced by folk art from Mexico and Central America. With its playful representation of different cultures, It’s A Small World is a fitting tribute to Mary Blair’s imaginative style.

“Blair’s synthesis of world architecture in a single setting creates a sparkling subtlety promoting unity and harmony among different cultures”. (John Canemaker, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair).

The It’s A Small World ride was was later replicated at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World Resort as well as Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. There is no t’s A Small World ride at Shanghai Disneyland.

Mary Blair’s It’s A Small World Murals at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

The striking It’s A Small World murals at Disney Contemporary Resort in the Grand Canyon Concourse dominate the whole area. The murals reflect the name Grand Canyon concourse and show a stylized version of the Grand Canyon with scenery, flowers, animal and people. They have been at Disney’s Contemporary Resort since it opened on 1971. The mural is one of the most iconic pieces of art in all of the Disney Parks.

Mary Blair’s Legacy to Disney Imagineers

In addition to her work on “It’s A Small World”, Mary Blair also contributed to the design of other well-known theme park attractions, including “The Enchanted Tiki Room” and ” Pirates of the Caribbean”. her playful and colorful style can be seen in each of these iconic rides, and she is considered one of the most influential designers in the history of theme park design.

It’s A Small World Penguin Prop. Sold for $19,200 at Heritage Auctions December 2018. Here is what may be considered the “Holy Grail” of all things Mary Blair: an original “Small World” prop of the South Pole Penguin. It was refurbished by WED and given to the Blair family when the ride was briefly closed for renovation in 2008. It was then given to the Mary Blair Family Trust by Marty Sklar, and exhibited around the world. This is the South Pole Penguin that Mary Blair put a Gaucho Hat on, since it is the South Pole. 

The final product was a colorful and whimsical display that has become one of the most beloved attractions at Disney parks around the world. Mary Blair’s contributions to Disney are still evident today, and her legacy continues to inspire artists and engineers who work on new attractions.


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