Steve Daly
October 24, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

She was a paradox at Walt Disney’s golden-age animation factory: a gifted conceptual artist whose flat, abstract style Disney revered, but whose playful designs were often homogenized beyond recognition — or just ignored — by the male-dominated, realism-obsessed drafting staff. As animator Ward Kimball says, ”She would inspire people, but her drawings were bastardized.” Artistic justice is finally served in John Canemaker’s delightful The Art and Flair of Mary Blair: An Appreciation (Disney Editions, $40). Dozens of whimsical sketches and paintings Blair did for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland (left), and Peter Pan prove her influence as a color stylist. She found her freest rein in overseeing the look of the World’s Fair attraction and eventual Disney theme-park ride ”It’s a Small World.” Just don’t blame her for that insipid song.

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