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Ward Kimball

23 Creative Christmas Cards by Disney Legend Ward Kimball

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.


Original art for 1936 card


Scan detail of original artwork for 1942 card


Outtake photo from 1958 card


Original photo paste-up of card


Outtake photo from 1966 card

BONUS: Early-1950s drawing by Ward of his band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two

And here’s the Firehouse Five playing “Jingle Bells”:

  • Roberto Severino

    This just made my day big time. There’s a treasure trove of inspiring drawings of high caliber and draftsmanship that only motivate me to try even harder. There’s so much that has been said about Ward Kimball but my appreciation is reaffirmed every time I see these sorts of drawings and reminds me of the kinds of high standards people like Kimball had. These cards are also a great display of his creative genius.

  • Matthew Broussard

    Why did Ward always draw himself looking like a bushy eyed brute?

    • AmidAmidi

      Because it’s funny.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        I have no qualms!

  • Tim

    This has confirmed that if they ever make a Ward Kimball biopic, he NEEDS to be played by Fred Armisen!!

    • Aaron R.R.R. Nance

      ~ Fred Kimball ~

  • Matt Jones

    Fabuloso!! Nice to see Kimball’s card to Searle in there –

  • Mike

    Every one a gem. What a unique being.

  • Aaron R.R.R. Nance

    Oh how that man would have tortured a modern computer with Photoshop.

    Any idea why the card from 1966 is signed “Aug, 1970”?

    • AmidAmidi

      Ward printed a lot of extras of that last one, which was a poster, and he continued sending it out for years afterward since he didn’t make any new ones.

      With that last card, Betty also sent along a ‘bumper sticker’ that read ‘Ban Xmas cards.’

      • Thompson

        Did Walt Disney’s passing in December of 1966 figure into Ward Kimball’s decision to halt sending custom Christmas cards after that year? Just wondered.

        • AmidAmidi

          I think Walt’s passing had less to do with it than the fact that all three kids left home by 1966. Also the list of card recipients had grown so large that the whole enterprise had become more burdensome than fun.

          • Chris Sobieniak

            That wouldn’t surprise me.

      • Chris Sobieniak

        Shame he didn’t continue that for another couple decades. Would’ve loved seeing what the 70’s had in store!

  • Suzanne L. Wilson

    It’s wonderful to see this–What a great variety over the years–each one genuinely creative. Not a cliche in the bunch!

    Hopefully it will encourage the tradition of artists making their own cards–it’s an ephemera worth preserving. This would make excellent bonus material to Ted Thomas’s program “Growing Up with Nine Old Men” presented at the Creative Talent Network Animation Expo. The documentation is incomparable!

  • Elana Pritchard

    You can’t make this stuff up… I looked at this earlier, and then on my evening walk I met a guy watering his garden who used to date Ward Kimball’s daughter. He talked about riding on Ward’s train at parties and his large model train collection. A very nice talk… gotta love living in Burbank.

  • Richard Bailey

    These are awesome! Such dedication to the concept to keep it going for so long

  • You can never get enough of Ward Kimball!

  • AmidAmidi

    Someone show this to Fred Armisen!

  • Pedro Nakama

    These are beautiful.

  • Céu D’Ellia

    And now is time to regret
    that Biography book it was not published yet… Crossed fingers to see it some

  • guest

    Ronald got Flood Grand Canyon and Amid got Fold Grand Canyon…

  • Mark Sonntag

    God I hope your book finds a publisher soon Amid.

  • Andrew

    actually I think that is Fred Armisen…I see the “Portlandia” font in the bottom right! I was like, “Dang, that is just uncanny!” Then I saw the font…

  • Squidhead

    These are amazing! Thank you for posting them!