Yesterland

Mary Blair Tile Murals

Tomorrowland Corridor of Murals
Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1996

North mural on the CircleVision 360 building

There’s so much to do in Tomorrowland. Circle-Vision 360 is right across from Adventure Thru Inner Space. Colorful PeopleMover trains scoot by overhead and Rocket Jets orbit not far away. But before you run to the next ride, take a moment to look up at the two ceramic tile murals that make Tomorrowland warm and inviting.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

GAF Pana-Vue slide image © WDP, courtesy of DisneyPix

South mural on the Adventure Thru Inner Space building

One mural is on the Bell System CircleVision 360 building. The other is on the Adventure Thru Inner Space building. Together, the two murals form a work of art called “The Spirit of Creative Energies Among Children.”

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1996

Children of the world making music

You say you’re reminded of “it’s a small world” in Fantasyland? That’s not a coincidence. The amazing artist who designed these delightful murals—as well as being a key creative force behind “it’s a small world”—is Mary Blair.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1996

Children of the world dancing

These aren’t just smooth ceramic tiles. The murals have textures as well as colors.

Wait a minute… What are these murals doing in Tomorrowland? There’s nothing futuristic or technological about these murals, is there?

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1996

Colorful communication satellites

Actually, the north mural shows children from different nations dancing and making music. Ribbons above their heads symbolize global communications. At the top of the mural, communication satellites bring the world closer together.

The south mural, on the Adventure Thru Inner Space building, is about energy, with nods to solar energy, wind energy, water power, and fire.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 1974

Eye-level view of Mary Blair’s murals from the PeopleMover

Each mural is 54 feet in length. The north mural is 15½ feet high; the south mural is even taller because it begins closer to the ground.

Although the murals are from the mid-1960s, their themes are just as important a half century later—perhaps even more so.

These murals are timeless. Walt Disney personally chose to have Mary Blair’s art bring optimism and joy to Tomorrowland.


When Disneyland’s $20 million New Tomorrowland opened in 1967, two striking murals by Mary Blair faced each other. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died before he could see the New Tomorrowland completed.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2006

Star Tours mural (1986-) on the south building

The south mural (on the Inner Space building) lasted until 1986. It was replaced by a space mural, which served as the facade for the new Star Tours attraction (1987).

For around ten years, the north Mary Blair mural and the Star Tours mural faced each other. It was an odd juxtaposition of styles.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2000

1998 Tomorrowland Mural (1998-2005) on the north building

The north mural (on the Circle-Vision 360 building) lasted until 1997. This legacy from the 1967 New Tomorrowland project became a victim of the 1998 New Tomorrowland project.

The 1998 Tomorrowland Mural was actually sort of a Yesterland mural, featuring pre-1967 Tomorrowland transportation systems. It was still an odd companion to the space-themed Star Tours mural across the corridor.

The 1998 mural had a short life. In 2005, it was replaced by a space-themed mural for the new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (2005) attraction. The corridor once again had murals that complemented each other.

It’s a shame that timeless art by a legendary Disney artist was replaced by lesser murals—not awful murals, just murals that don’t measure up to the art they replaced.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

© Google 2011

Google Doodle on October 21, 2011

Meanwhile, Mary Blair (1911-1978) has become much better known than she was during her lifetime. On the 100th anniversary of her birth, Google devoted a Google Doodle to her.

Working for Walt Disney Productions in the 1940s and early 1950s, Blair designed stylized concept art for animated features. You might even recognize her work in Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Melody Time, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland.

In his book Before the Animation Begins (Hyperion, 1996), animation historian John Canemaker devoted 29 pages to Mary Blair. No other Disney artist came close to getting so much coverage in this book.

Canemaker followed up with an entire book about Mary Blair, The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, published in 2003. It’s a wonderful art book with many examples of Mary Blair’s stylized concept designs for animated Disney films, as well as art that Mary Blair did outside of Disney. Although the the original edition is out-of-print, there’s now an updated edition with improved color fidelity.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Chris Bales, 1996

Another look at the Mary Blair mural on the north building

Will we ever see the Mary Blair Tomorrowland murals again? Were the murals destroyed? Or are they still intact under the current murals?

In The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker wrote:

The Tomorrowland murals were not truly permanent: both “disappeared” when they were covered over by renovations in 1987 and 1998. “Mary Blair’s murals were not damaged or painted on,” [longtime Imagineering executive] Marty Sklar notes, “but the decision was made for cost reasons to leave them in place—hidden treasures at Disneyland!”

It would be great if Marty Sklar’s story of undamaged murals—hidden treasures—were true. Unfortunately, evidence suggests otherwise.

A YouTube video, 1986 Disneyland Tomorrowland Mary Blair mural tile removal by AdamConlea, shows workers destroying entire rows of tiles during the construction of Star Tours. Openings were cut into the Star Tours building, destroying the bottom of the mural. The only reason any of the south mural survived is because it was easier to cover the remainder than to destroy it entirely.

The north mural has fared better. A new curved wall was built over the Mary Blair mural in 1997. Although the work was not done with preservation in mind, most of the north mural is entombed behind the wall. There was no need to cut openings because the north building was already open at the ground level, with the mural above.

Maybe bringing optimism and joy back to Tomorrowland would be a good idea—even if it requires carefully reproducing the missing and damaged tiles. That seems unlikely to happen, but if the original drawings are still safely locked away at WDI, it’s not an impossibility.

Mary Blair murals at Disney's Contemporary Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2003

Mural in Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Walt Disney World

Mary Blair’s largest mural is not in Yesterland. It’s in the dramatic Grand Canyon Concourse atrium of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. It’s been there since the resort opened in 1971, and it continues to delight guests.

Mary Blair murals at Disney's Contemporary Resort

2005 photo from Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License

Five-legged mountain goat

Featuring stylized birds, animals, flowers, and American Indian children, the mural consists of 18,000 hand-painted tiles and is 90 feet tall. You can catch a glimpse from the monorail, but that won’t give you enough time to look for the five-legged goat.

Mary Blair murals at Disney's Contemporary Resort

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Mural detail

The mural faces four different directions, each telling a different part of the story of the children, animals, and geology of the Grand Canyon. The next time you’re at Walt Disney World, make a point of visiting the mural.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2011

Touch screens at the Contempo Café

You can get “up close and personal” with the tile mural at the Contempo Café. It would be better if this quick service eatery made more of an effort to protect the mural from accidental damage.

Mary Blair murals at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

On the lower level of the Walt Disney Family Museum

A display case at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco features a paint stand, eyeglasses, and implements that belonged to Mary Blair. The decorated hard hat was a gift to Blair by other WED (now WDI) artists during the “it’s a small world” project.

MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair the Walt Disney Family Museum

© 2014 The Walt Disney Family Museum

On view from March 13 through September 7, 2014

For a limited time, the Walt Disney Family Museum has a comprehensive special exhibition, MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair, guest-curated by John Canemaker. For more information, visit the museum’s official website WaltDisney.org.


Four New (2014) Books to Consider

The Art and Flair
of Mary Blair,
Updated Edition

Hardcover
 

Magic Color Flair:
The World
of Mary Blair

Hardcover
 

The Art of
the Disney
Golden Books

Hardcover
 

Marc Davis:
Walt Disney’s
Renaissance Man

Hardcover
 


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Updated March 14, 2014.