During the “Golden Age” of Disney animation, the term catfish around Walt Disney Studios did not refer to a fish. “Catfish” was the nickname of Joshua Meador, the Mississippi native who, for more 25 years, was head of Disney Studio’s animation effects department.
An exhibit of Disney production drawings, art, animation cells and oil paintings by Meador has opened at the Louise Campbell Center for the Arts in downtown West Point. At noon Wednesday, I will give a gallery talk there about Meador, including some of the stories Phil Meador told me about his father’s experiences working with, and as a friend of, Walt Disney. The exhibit includes 12 paintings by Meador and more than 50 drawings and related pieces of Disney and Meador memorabilia.
In 2010 the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco had an exhibit of paintings that had belonged to Disney. According to the museum; “Walt Disney loved artists and counted them among his best friends.” The exhibition included seven paintings by Disney’s “artist friends,” ranging from Norman Rockwell to Josh Meador. At Disney’s request, Meador had painted two views of Disney’s house at his Smoke Tree Ranch. One of those was the painting in the museum exhibit. That painting was also shown hanging in Disney’s office in the movie “Saving Mr. Banks.”
The other hung in one of Disney’s homes and was given to Mrs. Meador by Mrs. Disney after Walt’s death. After Mrs. Meador died, Phil Meador gave the painting to Columbus, and it now hangs in the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau office.
Meador was born in Greenwood in 1911 and grew up in Columbus. He began working at Disney Studios in 1936. In 1939, he became head of animation effects and is credited in 61 Disney productions, including two in which he portrayed himself. He died in 1965 and is buried in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus.
Disney owned about 50 Meador paintings, and the paintings hung in both Disney’s houses and office. The Disney Family Museum describes Meador thusly: “(He) put the stardust in Tinkerbell’s magic and the iconic ‘Z’ in television’s Zorro.” His film work was described as ranging from “one of the art directors for Fantasia (to co-leader) of the team given the Oscar for special effects in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.”
On the website for California Arts, Karl Edwards has an article titled “Joshua Meador and Walt Disney’s Desert Artists.” He explained how one of the perks for artists who were friends of Disney was to be invited to his Smoke Tree Ranch near Palm Springs. There they would paint desert scenes. Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, recalled her father sending Meador to the ranch to paint “plein air” desert landscapes either for his home, ranch house or as studies for films.
In 1953, Disney produced the Oscar-winning, ground-breaking documentary “The Living Desert.” That documentary was said to have inspired the modern nature documentary and was, itself, inspired by the desert surrounding the Smoke Tree Ranch. Meador was listed in the credits for animation effects. In addition, several of Meador’s paintings at the ranch were done around 1950 shortly before the movie was produced and may have been studies he did for the documentary. Two of Meador’s paintings in the exhibit in West Point were painted about that time at or near Disney’s Smoke Tree ranch.
Known for his “plein air” landscapes and California coastal scenes, Meador was recognized as a master of the pallet knife. He painted a California coastal scene for the White House while Lyndon Johnson was President. That painting now hangs in Johnson’s Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. One of Meador’s paintings in the West Point exhibit is of that same coastal scene and location.
The exhibit also includes production pieces from several Disney films, such as original art work from “Snow White,” “Fantasia,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Bambi” and “Pinocchio.” Also there are copies of rare work from Meador’s personal art portfolio, such as drawings from 1940 for a proposed movie to be called “The Little Mermaid.”
The exhibit focuses on the Golden Age of Disney, 1936 to 1965. The exhibit’s art works are on loan from the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library and private collections. The gallery is open from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday or by appointment. For more information, contact Kathy Dyess at 662-494-5678 or Julie Gray at 662-295-0461.
For anyone interested in reading more about Josh Meador’s paintings, I would suggest visiting the website of the Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery in California. The gallery owners are friends of the Meador family and handle the sale of paintings for the Meador estate. Their website is: http://www.bodegabayheritagegallery.com. There is also an excellent four-minute clip of scenes and effects animated by Meador on Youtube at http://bit.ly/2gMZ0wu.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.
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