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Making his Marc: "Art of Marc Davis" exhibit to open at Walt Disney Family Museum next month, "Walt Disney's Renaissance Man" to be published this Fall

Making his Marc: "Art of Marc Davis" exhibit to open at Walt Disney Family Museum next month, "Walt Disney's Renaissance Man" to be published this Fall

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Today, March 30th, marks the 101st anniversary of Marc Davis' birth and, with two upcoming events, it looks like 2014 is going to be as remarkable as 1993. When Marc, at age 80, had a six-week exhibition of his very personal artwork at The Howard Lowery Gallery in Burbank, Calif.

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The Walt Disney Family Museum is currently preparing "Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis," a special exhibition in the museum's Theater Gallery from April 30 to Nov. 3, 2014.

The exhibition - co-curated by the museum's director of collections, Michael Labrie, and animator Andreas Deja - spotlights some 70 original pencil animation drawings, conceptual artwork, paintings, cels, and photographs from animator and Imagineer Marc Davis, who died Jan. 12, 2000.

Although Davis' work and accomplishments could fill a much larger gallery, selected artworks - mainly from Davis' personal holdings, Walt Disney Imagineering, several private collectors and the Walt Disney Family Foundation's collection - intend to focus on a part of Davis' life and career with his mastery of the human form.

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All rights reserved

Disney Editions is also preparing to publish "Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man," set for release on  Oct. 7.

Walt Disney once said of Marc Davis, "Marc can do story, he can do character, he can animate, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is tell him what I want and it's there!" As such, Davis touched nearly every aspect of The Walt Disney Company during his tenure.

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Since Davis had so many talents, it is only fitting that this tribute book will be composed by a multitude of talented writers. Experts in fine art, animation, Imagineering, and filmmaking have come together to honor Davis' contributions to their realms. Each chapter is accompanied by a wealth of artwork, much of which was offered up by his wife Alice Davis exclusively for this book. This $40 publication is designed to serve as both biography and portfolio of a Disney Legend who was an animator, Imagineer, world traveler, philanthropist, husband, and teacher. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com. It will also feature some of the art that was in the 1993-1994 exhibition.

In honor of his birth, and with permission from Howard Lowery and his wife, Walt Disney Family Museum planning team member Paula Sigman Lowery, here's a very good mini biography of Marc Davis that was featured in the catalog for his exhibition, held from Dec. 15, 1993 to Jan. 28, 1994.

So here's "Portrait of an Artist: The Life & Art of Marc Davis," by Paula Sigman Lowery. It was written for the 1993-1994 catalog with Marc's direct participation.

The only son of Harry and Mildred Davis, Marc was born March 30, 1913 in Bakersfield, Calif., where his father was engaged in the burgeoning oil field business.

"My father was a very extraordinary man, but when you ask me what he did I would say that he was a rainbow chaser - he went wherever new oil booms developed, wherever there was something new. I lived all over this country - in Florida, in Oklahoma, in Arkansas, in Louisiana, in Texas. ... I spent my early life in oil fields and mining towns."

Due to the Davis family's frequent moves, Marc attended 23 different schools by the time he graduated high school. When asked in 1983 if so many moves were difficult for a young boy, Marc smiled. "I discovered that I could amuse myself when I was lonely by drawing. But I also learned that I could go anywhere and meet anyone. In retrospect, it makes me feel sorry for the kids who go to one grammar school, one high school and one college. I had so much experience in the world by the time I was through high school."

This experience about life, Marc believed, was a significant part of "what I have to offer as a creative person." He acknowledged a great debt to his father. In 1931, at the bottom of the Great Depression, his father got him his first job. "He said to me, 'You've had a lot of education that many people haven't had, but I think there's some education that you need.' He got me a job in the Waldorf pool hall in Klamath Falls, Oregon, tending pool tables. The pool halls were filled with guys looking for work. Father was very good at psychology - he wanted me to learn about life. And I did. You have to know about life, and you create out of what you know. It's terribly important that we're aware of this. It's what life is really all about."

Marc first displayed his talents when he was a little boy. He remembered his first "creative experience" was in kindergarten in Reno, Nev. "I stood up on stage and recited 'There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile.' But I really got into being the crooked man ... and everyone laughed. I was a hit!"

As a youngster, Marc had little formal art training. At the age of 13 or 14, while living in Tulsa, Okla., he began informal art lessons. "A very nice lady had an art club. She taught us how to fix up a canvas. And she had a very spicy technique, almost an Impressionist style." Later, in Texas, Marc studied one night a week with an art teacher. The summer between grammar school and high school, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute for his first formal art training. "I did all the high school annuals wherever I was. I just happened to be the kid who could draw."

"My father didn't understand why I want to be an artist, instead of an architect. He thought 'Architects make money; artists starve to death.' I can appreciate his point of view. But my father was an artist himself. He was an extraordinary watchmaker - he had learned that in Switzerland where it really was an art - he was a magician, and he was a musician."

During the Depression, Marc's father moved the family to California and Marc took classes at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles for a year. Later they moved to San Francisco, where Marc attended the California School of Fine Arts.

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When he ran out of money for art school, Marc got up early and rode the streetcar to the Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco. "I got to know the assistant director of the zoo and they would let me in before they'd let the public in. They'd bring creatures out for me to draw. It was very exciting, and sometimes a little scary. They had a big collection of orangutans. One of the keepers asked, 'Have you ever felt the palm of one of these guys?' So they got one of them to put his hand out and I put my hand out. And, (the orangutan) closed his hand over mine. The texture of his paw felt like sawed wood. He didn't squeeze or anything, but I couldn't remove my hand. His grip was just like a piece of iron. It took two or three keepers five minutes to get him to let me go." After getting off work, Marc toiled in the public library, absorbing everything he could about anatomy.

"I was trying for an art scholarship. There was almost a whole room of my zoo drawings - on butcher paper - exhibited in the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and I thought I had it made. I found out later that if you didn't take classes from the director of the school, you didn't have a chance. So I didn't get the scholarship."

The family moved from San Francisco to Marysville, Calif., where Marc got a job working in a sign shop, designing theater posters. Suddenly, his father had a fatal heart attack. "We hadn't been living there very long, but everyone came to the funeral. It shows how much my father affected people - he had a tremendous personality."

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In December 1935, Marc joined the Walt Disney Studio as an apprentice animator. "We continually attended art classes and worked our way up by doing in-betweens, drawings that bridged the gap between the animator's extreme poses in the action." Because of his understanding of anatomy and his skill with the human figure, Marc was promoted to assistant animator for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ," drawing Snow White herself under the guidance of animation great Grim Natwick. "The very thing that I thought I had to offer the most wasn't available to me, because I worked on the human."

When "Snow White" was finished, Marc was at last given a chance to practice his specialty and joined the "Bambi " unit. He spent most of his time in story, designing the characters and developing the scene in which the young forest animals fall in love. Walt Disney saw these story sketches and said, "We ought to make an animator out of this kid - I want to see his drawings on the screen."

Marc's story drawings are among the finest studies of animal characters created in the Studio's history. He worked on most of the classic Disney animated features and many shorts, before becoming involved in three-dimensional animation while planning Disneyland.

(L to R) Josh Meador, Marc Davis, Eyvind Earle and Walt Peregoy. Copyright
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In the late 1950s, Disney background artist Art Riley suggested that Marc, along with Eyvind Earle, Josh Meador and Walt Peregoy go out and paint a magnificent old oak tree at Barham Boulevard, near Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles. They went out on their own time, on Saturday mornings, and Riley filmed them as they painted. The film, which demonstrated each artist's unique interpretation of the same subject, turned up on the Disneyland television show in 1958 as "Four Artists Paint One Tree," and subsequently has been shown in art classes and schools around the world.

After animating Cruella De Vil for "101 Dalmatians ," Marc turned his talents exclusively to Disney's Imagineering division, developing theme park characters and attractions beginning with the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.

According to Marc, The Walt Disney Studio turned out to be "one of the finest art schools I've ever attended." In the 1930s, Walt brought in Don Graham, a teacher from Chouinard Institute, to instruct the apprentice artists. "Don was probably the best teacher ever had." Graham's respect for Marc's artistry was evident when, in 1947, he asked Marc to take over the advanced drawing class he was teaching at Chouinard. Marc ended up teaching it one night a week for 17 years.

"Everyone wanted to take Marc's class," said his wife, Alice, an artist, costume designer and Disney Legend who was one of his first students at Chouinard. "Marc's class was Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning you'd find all the people who couldn't get in studying his drawings on the blackboard. They wouldn't let anyone erase them."

Marc's teaching technique was simple but effective. "The class was three hours long. The first 45 different positions for five- or 10-minutes studies. Then I'd lecture and draw on the blackboard for 45 minutes," he said. "We'd take a break, have the model again, and then I'd give another lecture. I never repeated the same lecture twice. We studied how the body works and I tried to teach my students how to think about capturing what they were learning about the body, and design accordingly."

Marc's concept art for the Ford Pavilion's "Magic Skyway" attraction at the 1964
- 1965 New York World's Fair. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
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Marc stopped teaching at Chouinard in the early 1960s when he was working on the New York World's Fair for Disney. He wasn't able to lead his weekly classes because he was spending so much time in New York.

Travel definitely had an influence on Marc's work. As a student artist, he spent several months touring Europe. He was - and continued to be throughout his life - fascinated by the classics: literature and especially mythology. In 1947, Marc went to Mexico to see the bullfights. "It was shocking, but at the same time it was magnificent," he recalled in 1993. "The power of those animals, the drama of the fight, was spectacular." He later went to Spain and visited the great bullfighting arenas. Images of bull and bullfighters (became) one of his favorite subjects.

In the 1970s, Marc and Alice became intrigued by the art and culture of Papua New Guinea. They made several visits to the island nation, collecting artifacts, tribal lore, and sketching what is now, unfortunately, becoming an almost vanished world. This interest inspired a book project, "The Bite of the Crocodile," and many of Marc's rough sketches were turned into mysterious and evocative paintings. (As of 2014, the book has not been published but there's still hope for the project.)


Marc retired from Disney in 1978, after 43 years with the company, to concentrate on his paintings. But he continued to consult for Disney up until his death.

"I've always seen myself basically as an artist - an artist that can take a medium like animation and work with it. Many of the paintings in this (1993-94) exhibition are things I did while I was animating. I needed to do them for myself," Davis said. "Art is where I started. I never really left it."

His legacy - his art, character design and ability to create comic moments that delight audiences - continues to inspire animators and Imagineers.