Monday, February 23, 2009

The Disneyland Art Corner

Among many Disney historians and enthusiasts, it is legend. A time and place now far removed, but distinct in memory, awash with nostalgia and rich with irony. For a little over a decade, it was not just a simple souvenir shop within the happiest place on earth, but also a small but ever so significant bridge of connectivity between studio and theme park. It brokered the sales of enchantment on acetate, and in doing so, likely preserved countless tangible pieces of animation history that might have otherwise met with incineration. Many future animation professionals left this special store carrying inspiration in a paper bag, ensuring a subtle yet enduring legacy heretofore largely uncelebrated.

The Disneyland Art Corner was indeed a place of magic.

This souvenir store, nestled in a corner of Tomorrowland, was born with Disneyland in 1955 and serviced park guests until shuttered in September of 1966. It began as a temporary location in a striped tent just off the hub near the Red Wagon Inn, when Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. After work on Tomorrowland was completed later that summer, the Disneyland Art Corner opened there in a new, permanent location on September 5, 1955. The interior of the store featured a Paris-inspired theme, appropriate enough for its art-based atmosphere, but clearly an odd fit for its Tomorrowland setting.

The if I only had a time machine . . . scenario is a daydream common to almost everyone. In that regard, it would be no understatement to suggest that the Art Corner would likely be the favorite temporal destination of most Disneyana collectors and enthusiasts. Among its many products were postcards, flip books, artist prints, art supplies, animation kits and various other sundry souvenirs. But most famously, this was the place where original hand-painted animation cels and cel elements could be purchased for as little seventy-five cents a piece.

Disney historian Jim Korkis remembers, "There was nothing else like Disneyland in the entire world when I was a kid. So it was not unusual to me that there was nothing else like the Disneyland Art Corner in the entire world." Korkis visited the Art Corner frequently as a child in the mid-1960s. He recalls, "There, in Tomorrowland, in a square building near a fenced off area where model airplanes buzzed loudly, was the Disneyland Art Corner. Part of the building was devoted to a display of how animation was done. Apparently, it was part of a traveling display that had toured in connection with the release of Sleeping Beauty as well as some items that Walt had shown on his weekly television program. They even had thaumatropes displayed! I remember walking through the exhibits, reading the explanatory plaques next to the displays and trying to figure out how it all worked." This was the Art of Animation exhibit that was adjacent to the Art Corner in the same building and opened in May of 1960.

Of the Art Corner itself, Korkis remembers much of the store's merchandise. "The majority of items were 'gag' items including postcards featuring Disney characters but with a 'squeaker' inside, flicker buttons where a picture of Goofy with a slight tilt would proclaim I’m Goofy About Disneyland or a picture of Tinker Bell who would state I Tink Disneyland Is Great, or funny signs, or small little colored plastic television sets that when you looked through a small white hole in the back of the set and pulled a switch on the side a cartoon picture would rotate."

A 1956 mail order catalog for the Art Corner described much of the shop's mainstay merchandise. Among the more unique items:

WALT DISNEY CARTOON CHARACTER GUIDES

These 16-page guides contain the actual model sheets used by the artists at the Walt Disney Studios in drawing the various Disney characters. Each book covers all the proportions positions, and characteristics of one particular character. An invaluable source of information for the budding, young artist. Library now available:

"How to Draw Mickey Mouse"
"How to Draw Donald Duck"
"How to Draw Jiminy Cricket"
"How to Draw Goofy"
"How to Draw Pluto"
"How to Draw Chip and Dale"

1.16 each

ART CORNER, DISNEYLAND POST CARDS

A set of eight souvenir Disneyland post cards in full color featuring Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse, Lady and Tramp, and other well known Walt Disney characters. These cards were designed by the artists at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and are sold exclusively through the Art Corner, Disneyland. A lot of fun to mail them to your friends from your own home town.

.45 per set of eight

WALT DISNEY FLIP BOOKS

See your favorite WALT DISNEY characters come to life. A wonderful toy as well as an excellent demonstration of the principles of animation. Each book has a full color cover and contains thirty pages of black and white sequence drawings. Now available:

Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
Pluto
Chip and Dale

.24 each . . . .90 set of four

ARTISTS SOUVENIR PALETTE WITH WATER COLORS

A large palette with simulated wood grain, complete with brush and six genuine water color cakes. Also imprinted with the ART CORNER Mickey Mouse sending greetings from Disneyland.


.34 each

The Art Corner sold a wide variety of art supplies, from easels and pens to paints and sketch pads. One of the store's most notable products was this one:

WALT DISNEY ANIMATION KIT

This kit is the result of considerable research and experimentation by the artists at the Walt Disney studio and is designed for anyone who likes to draw and has an aptitude for cartooning. It is complete in every detail and contains the following: One Animation Board complete with sides, glass, standard pages, and instructions for assembly and installation of light, two 16-page character model guide books using Walt Disney characters, one "Tips on Animation" book, one glossary of animated terms, one hundred sheets of high grade punched animation paper, two pencils, one eraser, six standard exposure sheets, and seven page treatise on animation methods at the Walt Disney Studio.
7.70 West of the Rockies
8.20 East of the Rockies

The Walt Disney Animation Kit was an inspiring piece of merchandise to many young artists of the era. Jim Korkis remembered the impact it had on him as an aspiring young animator. "There was even the offer that if you did an animated scene you could send it to the Art Corner and they would film it in 8mm and send it back to you!" Korkis recalls. "In addition, you got a special card declaring you a member of the Art Corner. At the time, to me, that was as good as being told I was a Disney animator."

Animation professional and filmmaker Michael Sporn also has fond memories of the kit. Sporn recollects, "I used that light box for many years animating lots of 8mm film. That kit probably solidified my desperate desire to get into animation when I was a kid." Veteran animator Tom Roth, who has worked on such films as Rescuers Down Under, Hercules, Dinosaur and Shrek, remembered, "I did a couple of pencil tests and sent them onto the Disney studio to be shot. They sent them back with a nice letter saying my animation was the best they had seen from all the Animation Kit owners. That got me started and I have been a professional animator now for 36 years."

But most significant of all the listings in the catalog was this one:

WALT DISNEY ORIGINAL CELLULOID DRAWINGS

Walt Disney "originals," are hand inked and painted in full vivid color, and mounted on heavy colored 9"x12" matboard ready for framing. Not copies, transfers or duplicates of any kind, but the actual hand-drawn artwork used in photographing a recent Walt Disney picture. These beautiful pictures are a most appropriate souvenir of Disneyland. Ideal for children's rooms. Now available are Lady and the Tramp and some other characters from this feature. Also, Goofy, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, Humphrey the Bear, and Jiminy Cricket, from recent Disney pictures. Please specify your preference, but order is subject to stock on hand.


1.47 complete with souvenir mailing envelope

Yes, that's right. $1.47.

Rob Richards, perhaps best known as the house organist at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, is a fifteen year veteran of collecting animation art and Disneyana. He states that, " . . . the Art Corner has a legendary, almost mythological status. I can't imagine the lottery win of buying original Disney production cels for a dollar!" Richards has become a scholar of animation art and collecting, and something of an expert when it comes to the Disneyland Art Corner. According to Richards, the Disney Studio didn't generally ascribe much value to their cels. "They were just a step in the production process. Frank Thomas told the story of taking home cels from Fantasia so his kids could use them to slide down the neighborhood hill! Many cels were simply thrown away after being photographed."

The Art Corner was however, not the first time Disney made animation art available for purchase. Richards notes, "Through the years, Disney realized the artwork did indeed have some historic and commercial value and could generate some income for the studio. The first cel marketing venture included 7000 cels from Snow White, released by San Francisco's Couvoisier Gallery. These were followed by cels from Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, the Silly Symphonies, etc. These originally sold for $5 to $50, a fairly expensive price in those post-Depression years. For five dollars, a person could buy a single cel set-up over a simple airbrush background. For $50, one purchased a more elaborate, panorama or multi-character piece. The Courvoisier Gallery sold these early Disney cels for roughly ten years, at what were considered rather high prices for the day. In 1948, the Courvoisier Gallery went out of business."

The business of selling cels was given new life when Disneyland opened in 1955. This was due almost entirely to the efforts of Jack Olson, a background artist at the Disney Studio who was placed in charge of the studio's retail venues within the park. Olson literally rescued thousands of cels from awaiting garbage dumpsters and turned them into revenue-generating Disneyland souvenirs.

"These Art Corner animation cels were sold at an astonishing low cost," says Rob Richards. "I have one piece actually hand-priced in pencil on the back... 75 cents! The usual price was a dollar for a single character, up to five dollars for a multi-cel setup." In their book Disneyland: The Nickel Tour, authors Bruce Gordon and David Mumford observed, "They were considered of such little value, in fact, that Disney designer Malcolm Cobb was told to sort through the cels, and throw away any he thought weren't worth a dollar."

An Art Corner cel of Chip and Dale, likely from a
television production, on an unrelated background.

From the collection of Bob Cowan.

Rob Richards described some of the distinctive hallmarks of Art Corner cels. The cels were usually trimmed (sometimes drastically), reduced in size from a full cel sheet to as small a piece as possible. Small mats were less expensive, increasing the per-piece profit margin. The cel layers were stapled to color print backgrounds reproduced from Disney animated films, or just as often over a piece of plain colored art board. The finished setups were overlaid with a blank cel for protection. On occasion the mostly-blank overlay cel was a remnant of an effects cel. Setups were fitted with an inexpensive mat, and the backing was taped shut with plain old masking tape. The finishing touch was the "Gold Seal." Applied to the back of the cel, it stated This is an original handpainted celluloid drawing actually used in Walt Disney production, released exclusively at Disneyland © copyright Walt Disney Productions.

Richards also explained that one of the bewildering, but still amusing aspects of Art Corner setups was the odd combinations. "You might get a cel of a penguin from Mary Poppins coupled with Donald Duck from an industrial or educational film, on a background from Paul Bunyan! Or Tinkerbell and one of Donald Duck's nephews on a Sleeping Beauty background. These are actual setups I've had. The bizarre combinations were endless."

Richards notes that it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the Art Corner. "The Art Corner rescued thousands of cels from being destroyed and saved them for posterity."

A number of Disney Studio artists frequented the Art Corner, drawing sketches and creating caricatures for park guests. Studio veteran and Mouseketeer Roy Williams made numerous appearances there throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Though the Disneyland Art Corner closed in 1966 to accommodate a dramatic overhaul of Tomorrowland the following year, its retail legacy lives on to some extent in the Art of Disney stores scattered throughout Disneyland and Walt Disney World. But it is a legacy that has certainly lost the innocence of that earlier era. Ironically, the Art Corner's inexpensive but authentic pieces have been replaced by collectible reproductions priced in the hundreds to sometimes thousands of dollars.

What remains of the Disneyland Art Corner are simple memories of joy, discovery and inspiration. It was a place that, for eleven very short years, encapsulated the creative spirit and heritage that was ultimately responsible for the very theme park that surrounded it.



Special thanks to many individuals who have generously shared their resources relating to the Disneyland Art Corner: Jim Korkis, Rob Richards, Bob Cowan, Jenny Lerew, Hans Perk and the blog Vintage Disneyland Goodies.

Disneyland Art Corner postcards provided courtesy of disneylandpostcards.net.

13 comments:

Bob Cowan said...

- I thought this was a great piece of writing! Well crafted!
- I would agree that the Art Corner played a very significant role in creating the broad popularity in animation art. Few, myself included, never thought the art was retained AND would be available for sale...
- Thanks for the excellent work!

Didier Ghez said...

Way to go Jeff. Outstanding post.

Rob Richards said...

What a wonderful piece, Jeff. Terrific!!!!

Susan H said...

wow this is such an excellent article - I came across this while Googling Disney Art Corner. Thank you SOO MUCH for the gorgeous black and white photos of the Disney art corner back in the 1950s. I wasn't even born then. I agree wholeheartedly Disney Art Corner saved a whole lot of cels from being disposed - thanks to it we now have a good selection of Sleeping Beauty and Lady and The Tramp cels in the current market. I wished I could turn back the time machine too!!

scott said...

Hi Jeff--

Great post. However it's not "Jack Olson", it's "Jack Olsen", and he'd be the first to tell you, believe me!

Anonymous said...

Hi, a fantastic read! Great pics too! I actually am a animation art collector in Australia, I have two art corner setups, one of donald (and a butterfly from an unknown production), and Jiminey cricket from donalds award (1959). Reading this article was fantastic!

George Banos. georgemopar@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Great article. A few comments about The Art Corner at Disneyland.
First off, There was the Art Corner at Tomorrowland but did you know that there was another one in Fantasyland (to the right of the Fantasyland theatre), which I believe was still open after the original one in Tomorrowland closed.
Disney Animation Cels, from what I gather, were also sold in other shops around Disneyland including the emporium on Main Street!
Since cels were being sold up til the release of The Aristocats, I was told that these Disneyland set ups were even being sold at the emporium in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in the early 70's.
During my first visit to WDW in 1974, I missed seeing the Art Corner set ups, but vividly remember visiting a gallery in The Walt Disney World Village (Now The Disney Marketplace) in Lake Buena Vista offering original Disney art from Robin Hood for about $ 45 a set up, which was considered pricy for the time (that price was roughly worth about four WDW park admissions!). If the art corner pieces were still available (at roughly
$ 3.00 a pop), I might have been able to buy a few at the time!
Brian Mitchell

Anonymous said...

The Art corner may have closed it's doors in 1966, but the parks were definitely still selling cels well into the late 80's.
I visited Walt Disney World in 1988 and in a shop close by to the Dumbo ride, just in a box by the counter, there were cels for sale. Mostly they were from 'The Black Cauldron', but I distinctly remember finding two cels of Madame Medusa from 'The Rescuers' as she was, and still is, my absolute favorite Disney character.
I can't remember how much they were priced at, but I do remember that as much as I wanted to buy one of the Medusas it would have blown my entire 'spends' for the holiday so I didn't. That either means that they were relatively expensive by then, or my holiday budget was distinctly low-rent!
For many years now I've regretted that decision. As an adult I collect cels, but of course have to pay the price...
David Leick-Burns. Luxembourg. Aged 41!

Anonymous said...

I have a Mickey and Donald sketch drawn by Roy Williams in 1955 on Disneyland sketch pad paper. Any ideas if this is worth anything?

Anonymous said...

I have a Mickey and Donald sketch drawn by Roy Williams in 1955 on Disneyland sketch pad paper. Any ideas if this is worth anything?

Anonymous said...

Roy Williams' Disneyland sketches appear from time to time on Ebay; and I believe their value is anywhere between $ 50 - $ 100, although I have been able to grab some of these on ebay between $15 - $ 25.
Back in the day, Roy would be a fixture at Disneyland, effortlessly creating quick sketches of Mickey, Donald, Pluto and sometimes Goofy for the guests, probably because they were much easier to draw than say... Cinderella.
Some sketches have the words Disneyland and Roy Williams pre-printed on them which adds to the drawings authenticity and in turn, the drawings value.
However, unlike animation cels from the Disney animated films, random sketches from Disney artists rarely command same type of attention and respect.
But sketches from Roy Williams carry a triple threat; they are a true souvenir from the early days of Disneyland, plus the sketch with Roy Williams signature offer up a collectible from one of the original Mouseke- errrr - MOOSEketeers!
And of course...Roy was one of Walt's original story artists, involved in just about every animated film that the studio ever made. So the sketches that I own are valued very much indeed.
But what are treasures to me may be worthless to someone else.

Brian Mitchell

Valerie said...

Thank you for writing this excellent piece. My father was stationed in California in 1960 and purchased 2 celluloids from Art Corner. They are exactly as you describe with the gold foil sticker and masking tape on the back. He also has some wonderful View Master 3D discs from the Disneyland 'Vacationland' series. They are all dated from 1955-59. I have no idea what any of these things are worth now. I just treasure the thought of him bringing these things back for us.

Anonymous said...

Thank You most kindly for writing your article on The Walt Disney Animation Kit. I have one 99% complete, and with all six character Animation 16 page Animation books. Only two items I am minus is the 6 exposure sheets and the eraser. I have some idea what this might be worth now, but can you shed some light on its' value? Thanks!