blairrodeo420 blairrodeo420

LA Times on Lee Blair’s Olympic Gold

Disney animator Lee Blair won a Gold medal for watercolor painting at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. That was back in the day when the Olympics recognized the arts as well as athletics. The LA Times has nice piece on Blair’s win in today’s Calendar section. The print edition has a great photo of Lee and Mary Blair and an image of his award winning watercolor, Rodeo (above). Apparently the painting is lost – its whereabouts unknown. BTW, the Silver medal for watercolor that year went to Percy Crosby, the creator of the comic strip Skippy.

(Thanks, Tom Pope)

  • Doug

    Lee Blair was also related to animator Preston. Was he a brother-in-law?

  • Tom Pope

    Preston was Lee’s brother.

  • Chuck R.

    “Apparently the painting is lost – its whereabouts unknown.”

    Apparently, Preston isn’t the only victim of the “Blair swipe.”

    Seriously, thanks for this great post. I’m a big fan of Lee’s work as well as Mary’s. This is the first I’d heard of this. It’s too bad that Lee Blair’s legacy has been reduced to playing the villain in Mary’s life saga. His artwork is greatly under-appreciated. If you can get your hands on John Culhane’s fantastic book on “Fantasia”, you can see at least 3 stunning watercolor sketches of Blair’s from Dance of the Hours.

  • My memory is completely shot on this, but Lee Blair founded a commercial studio in New York in the early 50s called Film Graphics.

    They produced low-fi animation for The Bob and Ray TV Show as well as commercials, like the I Love Lucy opener.

    Vinnie Caffarelli from Buzzco worked there as well as Pablo Ferro, Ed Smith and others.

  • Lee mentioned that win to me occasionally. It really did launch him as an artist and was very impressive at the time.
    He preferred to keep up with the times though, so he preferred to talk about whatever he was doing at the moment. The gold medal was mentioned in a couple of articles in local press around Santa Cruz and Soquel where he retired. He didn’t like to think of himself as an old man, and the Gold Medal win was so closely associated with the year 1932 that I’m sure he preferred not to dwell on it.

    He painted watercolors profusely during his younger years, and then when he opened Film Graphics (TV Graphics) in New York, he became very busy with that business and neglected watercolors almost completely. In his retirement, he picked up his brush again an painted some amazing watercolors (see the painting called “Farm: Half Moon Bay” c.1972 in the McClelland/Last book, “The California Style”).

    Not many people know it, but Lee was quite a notable figure at Disney’s prior to WW2. Walt really liked his work and was impressed by Lee’s reputation as a watercolor artist in the fine art/gallery world. Walt depended on him for many color decisions when the studio began to really explore the use of color in the late-1930’s/early 1940’s. Lee was working at Harman-Ising on a short that the studio contracted for Disney which has some dazzling use of color as compared to other shorts of the time. Disney hired Lee away from Harman Ising and Mary soon followed.

  • hans bacher

    the idea of a combined sports/art olympic event was revived at the 1984 los angeles olympic games. they called it THE OLYMPIC ARTS FESTIVAL. I remember it well because I had a short in the competition. as far as I remember there were no medals handed out. but it was a fun event. peter schneider, later disney animation president, was involved in the organization.

  • It also mentioned in this article that Lee and Mary Blair’s son Kevin had recently passed away, which I hadn’t heard about until now. I met Kevin late last year at the opening for The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, an exhibit of his mother’s art, which was held at the Cartoon Art Museum in SF.

    Kevin was super enthusiastic about his mother’s art and was nice enough to share a story behind one of his mother’s pieces with me. I’m very sorry to hear the sad news, and send my deepest condolences to his family and friends.

  • Rich in Soquel

    Lee taught courses on animation at Cabrillo College in the 1980’s. During one of them I took, he showed us some things he was working on, one was for the San Francisco Philharmonic, I think, and one was an animated music video he was hoping to get Charlie Daniels to use (buy?). Does anyone know if either of those came to be? Also, he designed the sign that I see every morning as I drive into Soquel (in Santa Cruz County, where Lee had retired).

  • frank mowrey

    I grew up down the road from Lee and Mary Blair in Soquel. I got to know Lee after Mary’s death. I helped him build his sailboat. I can remember seeing paintings in his living room , that he would work on from time to time. I’ve always wanted to buy a piece of his work, as it would have deeper meaning to me, as his friend, but the prices are probably out of my reach.

    And his German Shepard was named Frodo :)