If Disneyland is an emblem of American childhood and wonder, then the beloved park’s crowning Sleeping Beauty castle is the symbol of our collective memory. We have Walt Disney to thank for this creation, but the original vision of the iconic castle owes its existence to artist Eyvind Earle.
Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle, the newest special exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, honors the artist’s lifelong career, including his impactful tenure with Disney.
Don’t recognize his name? Don’t fret. Earle’s art will surely look familiar to you, even if you’re not a mouse-ear-donning Disneyphile. In addition to his work on Sleeping Beauty (1959) and other Disney animated films, Earle designed Christmas cards, magazine covers, and print ads. Much like hearing Princess Aurora sing “Once Upon a Dream,” his artwork—particularly from the ’40s—evokes a romantic sense of time; its distinct style transcends even a commercial medium.
Co-curated by Earle’s one-time mentee and CEO of Eyvind Earle Publishing, Ioan Szasz, the retrospective takes visitors from the landscapes inspired by the cross-country adventure of Earle’s youth through his years drawing for Disney and all the way to the acrylic- and oil-based paintings of his late career. The result is a show that both inspires and playfully tickles one’s sense of nostalgia. (You can’t pass through the exhibition hall without experiencing a strong desire to re-watch Sleeping Beauty.)
Earle, who passed away in 2000, started working for Walt Disney Studios in 1951 as a background artist for films including Peter Pan (1953) and Lady and the Tramp (1955). His hard work and creative passion paid off when he was promoted to lead artist on Sleeping Beauty. To inspire the film’s rich tapestry of decorative images and geometric patterns and create the castle’s design, Earle studied Gothic style and incorporated Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese elements. This varied influence of artistic approaches comes alive in Earle’s spare concept paintings.
Though you may come to see the castle renderings and Earle’s other Disney drawings, do plan to linger over the glossy paintings created in the latter part of his life. More fantasy than fairy tale, these vibrant works reveal the transformation of Earle’s unique style—an evolution reminiscent of Disney’s archetypal princess story, from Aurora to Moana.
If that’s not enough Disney magic for you, make sure to wander through the museum’s main galleries before you leave.
Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle is on display through January 8, 2018, at the Walt Disney Family Museum; $35 for adults and $15 for children ages 6–17, including access to the museum’s main galleries.