Nov 19, 2006

a Mary Blair surprise

I've recently had reason to spend time at UCLA's vast, impressive medical complex. Although my business wasn't in the department of the renowned Jules Stein Eye Institute, it was close enough, and I remembered that the stolid, sleekly functional medical building contains a lovely little secret tucked away for children and their familes: a mural commissioned and donated by Walt Disney, and designed by Mary Blair.

It's not a huge piece, but it's been done to fit a specific niche: one wall of an,ordinary, smallish rectangular children's waiting room.
Done by Mary at the peak of her "Small World" work, dating(I believe) to 1964, it's reminiscent of her late lamented Tomorrowland tiled mosaic. The ceramic tiles used in this work are large--more than a foot square, with much raised texturing and outlining of the the figures, along with accents for pure fun.

The wall is broken up by a bathroom door for the use of both boys and girls(I would have loved being depicted as an an indian myself, rathe than a matching cowgirl-trust Mary to do it):

The wall's in pretty good shape--a few tiny areas have small chips, but nothing major--and remember, this is a kids waiting area--it's amazing that it's survived as intact as it has for 40 years.

I wish these images were of better quality, but they're taken from a brief video I shot while there. As this is very much an in-use space and there were a few parents sitting on a couch beneath the wall, I had to be hasty and do my best to avoid inadvertently capturing anyone in the frame. The result is certainly not as definitive as I'd like, but I knew readers here would get a kick out of seeing it.

I certainly hope that you never have recourse to visit the facilities there, but if you do--it is a wonderfully interesting, invigorating place to be. As well as one of the best centers of its kind in the country.

And of course, it wouldn't be there at all if not for the gift of the special patron responsible for it:

the cross-hatching resulted from the glass door of the room being opened back against the plaques-as with the Mary Blair plaque above
Walt Disney's legacy of giving back to the community continues to this day at UCLA--the names of Geffen, Katzenberg and Peter Morton(founder of the Hard Rock cafes) are visible throughout the hospital. I'm sure there are the names of many, many more prominent entertainment figures that I didn't see.

The gifts of those that are able to contribute have made huge differences in the lives of millions of people who know nothing about the donors. While most monetary help is put to use in practical ways like machinery and operating budgets, this older gift is a small, sweet vision of pure art gracing one room of the Eye Institute. Thank goodness it's survived to this day through hundreds of refabs and redos and razings and spiffier buildings erected. I wonder how many children have stared(or tried to)up at Mary Blair's wall and thought of Disneyland, or just of fantastical adventures featuring the children shown there?


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wooooow! I heard about this mural but have never seen it till now. Fascinating!

tericson said...

Some more pictures of this wonderful mural can be found here: Tim.