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Prepare for the Mary Blair Invasion

Thirty-five years after her death, the iconic animation artist Mary Blair is getting artistic representation. The Mary Blair Estate has teamed up with Firefly Brand Management to spread her whimsical and colorful creations to “a wide range of products, including cosmetics, home décor, accessories, apparel, and collectibles.” Firefly also represents such brands as Skippy Peanut Butter, Mr. Bubbles, the Village People, Etch A Sketch, and SPAM.

Maggie Richardson, who is Mary Blair’s niece, said in the announcement:

“My sister Jeanne and I are thrilled to be working with the dynamic, cutting edge team at Firefly. We both grew up around Mary and her art – not only her Disney, children’s books and other projects, but the art she did for herself, her family and friends and for special occasions – created from pure enjoyment and her deep love of painting. This unique and versatile body of work spans Mary’s lifetime and is imbued with her now famous Mary Blair Magic. We are delighted to be sharing it through our new association with Firefly.”

On the one hand, it’s nice to see Mary Blair’s artwork disseminated in the public sphere. On the other hand, Mary’s artwork, charming and fun as it may have been, was created as she battled addiction, an emotionally abusive spouse, and all sorts of difficult family issues. It’s tacky to see people who had nothing to do with her art profiting from work created under such tragic circumstances.

  • Matt

    Where did you get the information that she had addiction problems and that her spouse was abusive? To make those statements I would hope you back it up with actual fact checking.

    • AmidAmidi

      All of this stuff (alcohol, emotional abuse, personal problems) is alluded to in John Canemaker’s biography of Mary Blair. Being a Disney-sanctioned biography, the book obviously wasn’t as in-depth as it could have been based on our available knowledge of her life.

      • Justin

        I read that intro as well and I agree with you. The other stuff going on behind the curtains was definitely down played even though it seemed to take up a lot of her life in her later years.

        I’d be interested to know more of what was going on in the Blair household. I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to be such a creative force during a time when women were relegated solely to tracing the artwork of men.

        I’m sure that once she started her family there must have been a lot of pressure on her to stay home and be Mom too.

        If this brings more people to see and appreciate her art in the mainstream that’s a good thing, I just hope it’s done with some sort of taste. The same ideas about tackiness can be applied to a lot of artists. Look at Van Gogh for instance. I think it depends on what the artist wanted to share with us at the end of the day.

  • theGee

    Maybe it would have been tackier 34 years ago. Maybe it would not have been tacky at all 34 years ago. Now…35 years after her passing… it seems like something else. Maximum monetization before copyright expires. But, whatever…it can be done, so it will be done.

  • gregmaletic

    People have been profiting off her work for 35 years, and now it’s tacky? What’s changed?

    As long as the merchandise is well-thought-out and high quality, I don’t see why Mary’s estate shouldn’t profit off this. And is there any evidence to suggest that Mary herself wouldn’t want her estate to profit in this way?

  • gregmaletic

    Why is it okay for John Canemaker and Disney to profit off Mary’s work, but not her family?

    • AmidAmidi

      Mary Blair had a contract with the Disney company and was paid for the work that she did, to which they retain complete ownership. Whether it was a fair deal or not, she accepted the terms and created work under those terms for decades. The people who run Mary Blair’s estate have no legitimate connection to the creation of the artwork except for being the last living relatives of Blair.

      As for Canemaker, the reason we can even discuss this situation is because of his efforts to tell her story. Canemaker has never profited from Mary’s artwork. He may have ‘profited’ from telling the story of her life, which is based on his own efforts of researching and writing a book. And speaking as another biographer, there is really no financial gain in animation biography; it’s something done out of passion for honoring the lives of artists.

      • gregmaletic

        > The people who run Mary Blair’s estate have no legitimate connection to the creation of the artwork except for being the last living relatives of Blair.

        I don’t know what Mary Blair thinks about this, but I can only imagine—as someone with descendants of my own—that she would be fine with them receiving the benefits of her work, assuming they do so in moral and reputable ways. Until we see otherwise—and maybe we will—I’m prepared to give Mary Blair’s descendants the benefit of the doubt.

  • In March the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco will be presenting MAGIC, COLOR, FLAIR: the world of Mary Blair. They have her desk as permanent display, it will be good to see a collection of her original art.

  • Shannon Blaney

    Well, I for one am very excited to hear about this. I’ve been wondering for a few years if this would ever happen. I’ve designed a few products myself with Mary Blair’s styling in mind, knowing full well the vast potential in this area of Disney consumerism. I know Mary Blair has a website and it offers a small online store where some copies of her prints and other small items and sundries bearing her designs are sold, but that’s it. And I know that a lot of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” merchandise is sold through Disneyland and its consumer product stores. These items bear Mary Blair’s designs as well. I don’t know copyright law in depth, but it seems to me that Disney owns Mary’s work (images) on their projects (as they were “work for hire”related), but they don’t own Mary Blair’s signature, or do they? Do any of Disney’s consumer products bearing Mary’s designs actually bear her signature? Has Disney licensed the right to use Mary Blair’s name on their products? Disney is foolish not to seek this, in my opinion. In my mind, Mary has reached legendary status as a designer, and is in fact a brand all on her own. I don’t know if this has already been done, but if I was part of Mary Blair’s Estate, I’d make certain her name was securely trademarked as a brand, and then proceed to develop designs for a wide array of products and merchandise. Mary’s brand could easily be as big as Hello Kitty. I mean, think of all the movies she’s helped design. It’s not just the Disney characters that are important in film. In truth, Disney is selling the “emotion” of their films. Naturally, a great story and cast is the main catalyst of initial consumerism, but it is the emotionality of the film’s color styling, design elements, and music that are farther reaching and longer lasting in the human psyche.