When you meet picture book lovers who are fans of illustrator Mary Blair, you’ll find that they are hard-core, no-messing-around-about-it fans. And with good reason.

The woman whom animation historian John Canemaker calls “designer and colorist extraordinaire” was an exceedingly talented illustrator, as well as a significant influence in the field of children’s movie animation.

Blair (1911-1978) was a conceptual artist for Disney films from 1942 to the mid-‘50s. There, she worked on both animated and live-action films, as well as the company’s theme parks, including Disneyland and Disney World’s “It’s a Small World.” You can see her work in Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), and many other animated films. Blair once recalled, “Walt said that I knew about colors he had never heard of before.”

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As Canemaker writes in the foreword to A Mary Blair Treasury of Golden Books, released this August, “[c]ompared to her prodigious film and theme park artwork, Blair’s illustrations for children’s books are small in number, but they are huge in quality, charm, imagination, and one hundred percent pure delight.”

The elegantly designed Treasury includes the five children’s books Blair published with Golden Books from 1950–1964: Gelolo McHugh’s Baby’s House, Ruth Krauss’s I Can Fly, Miriam Clark Potter’s Golden Book of Little Verses and The Up and Down Book.  Selections from The New Golden Song Book are also included.

It’s a must-have for Blair fans—and for picture book fans and lovers of illustration everywhere.

That’s because she was such a singular artist, whose work, Canemaker notes, was inventive and multi-layered—incorporating everything from Cubism to European poster work to fashion illustrations of the time. Her vivid imagination, bright palette, what Canemaker describes as her “adroit technical skill,” and her ability to tell such delightful stories through line, color, texture and tone truly make her one of the last century’s most extraordinary illustrators.

And her artwork, as reproduced here, is bright, bold and beautiful. Blair’s blues have never looked brighter; her greens, never richer; and her striking lines and angles are on eye-catching display in this large-format title. She captivates, Canemaker writes, “with intriguingly emotional visual storytelling in a single picture or character’s pose.”

mary blair

Take a look at the first spread in Krauss’ I Can Fly, and you see it: “A bird can fly. So can I.” The young girl standing on the swing holds her head high, beaming confidence and self-assurance, all laid out on a spread with generous white space. White, Canemaker explains, was a color Blair favored as “festive” and lends a crispness to her work.

It’s an outstanding volume for art-lovers everywhere. Don’t miss it.

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.  

A MARY BLAIR TREASURY OF GOLDEN BOOKS. Foreword copyright © 2012 by John Canemaker. Published by Random House, New York. Spread posted with permission of publisher.