Between the mid-1930s and the mid-1960s, legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball, one of the studio’s vaunted Nine Old Men, created an annual Christmas card for both friends and family. The cards proved hugely popular, and the list of recipients numbered over one thousand by the time he designed his final card in 1966.
I ran across these cards while I was researching Ward’s biography (the same biography that the Walt Disney Company desperately doesn’t want the public to see) and was immediately enamored with them, mostly because they offer such a pure insight into Ward’s quirky sense of fun and creativity.
The cards reveal Ward’s artistic restlessness and continual search for new visual concepts. They also document the evolution of his drawing style during the mid-Forties from traditionally rounded cartoon forms to confidently stylized illustration. This same shift can be seen in the streamlined characters he animated at Disney in the same period on films such as Peter and the Wolf and Pecos Bill.
His wife, Betty, and the three Kimball children—Kelly, John, and Chloe—often participated in the creation of the cards and were featured prominently in photographs. “When I was little, I was a happy kid and a camera was fine,” Kelly Kimball told me. “Then I became self-conscious [at a] very young age, and I didn’t like the camera pointing at me…And I had a father who wanted to document everything with the camera. It drove me nuts.”
Click on any of the images to enlarge.
BONUS: Early-1950s drawing by Ward of his band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two
And here’s the Firehouse Five playing “Jingle Bells”: