Born October 21, 1911 in McAlester, Oklahoma, Mary Blair (then Mary Browne Robinson) moved to Texas while still a small child, and later to California when she was about 7. Having graduated from San Jose State College, Mary won a scholarship to the renowned Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1934, she married another artist, Lee Everett Blair. She then became the sister-in-law of animator Preston Blair.
Both Blair and her husband soon began to work in the animation industry, joining the Ub Iwerks studio. She worked briefly on art for Dumbo, and early version of Lady and the Tramp and a second version of Fantasia, which didn't happen until the 90's.
After leaving the studio for a brief time in 1941, Mary traveled to various South American countries with Walt and Lillian Disney and other artists on a research tour as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy. During those trips, Mary and Lee worked on concept art for the animated feature films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros with Mary credited as art supervisor on those films.
After that she worked on several package films excluding Fun and Fancy Free and worked on 2 partially animated features Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart. The early 1950s were a busy time for the Disney studio, with an animated feature released nearly every year. Mary Blair was credited with color styling on Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953) and the artistic influence of her concept art is strongly felt in those films as well as several animated shorts she designed during that period.
After the completion of Peter Pan, Mary resigned from Disney and worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, creating advertising campaigns for companies such as Nabisco, Pepsodent, Maxwell House, Beatrice Foods and others. She also illustrated several Golden Books for publisher Simon & Schuster, some of which have never gone out of print, and designed Christmas and Easter sets for Radio City Music Hall.
At the request of Walt Disney, who highly regarded her innate sense of color styling, Mary began work on the attraction It's a Small World, originally a Pepsi-Cola sponsored pavilion benefiting UNICEF at the 1964 New York World's Fair.
In 1967, Mary created a mural for the Tomorrowland Promenade. Two similar tile murals flanked the entrance corridor. The one over Adventure Thru Inner Space was covered over during subsequent renovations of that Disneyland area in 1987 with the opening of Star Tours and the other remained until 1998 when the Circle-Vision 360° was replaced with Rocket Rods and a new mural to convey the new theme of the area. In 1968, she also was credited as color designer on the film version of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Mary was commissioned again to do another mural, that still exists today, the large focal point inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort on the Grand Canyon Concourse, and it has been there since the opening in 1971.
Sadly Mary Blair died July 26, 1978, in Soquel, California. In 1991, she was one of the first women to be awarded a Disney Legend award.