Herbert D. Ryman: Artist, Designer, Mentor
Herbert D. Ryman (1910-1989) was that rare artist who easily bridged both the commercial and fine arts throughout his long career, with work in one sphere inspiring the other. Ryman created the first overall illustration of Disneyland, drawing as Walt Disney described his dream for a new kind of family entertainment, and continued to work on every Disney theme park until he died in 1989. But Ryman was also an exhibiting fine artist, a member (and president) of the California Art Club, and was particularly prolific in pen and ink, watercolor, and oil. His work was shown regularly in galleries as early as 1937 in New York, Los Angeles and other cities.
Born in Illinois in 1910, Ryman attended Millikin University in Decatur and later graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1932. There he studied in the classical fine arts tradition, building a foundation in drawing from observation that formed the basis for his artistic approach all his life.
Following his sister Lucille Ryman Carroll out West to California, Ryman began his career as a production designer during the Golden Age of Hollywood. He began at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, working on such classics as David Copperfield and Mutiny on the Bounty. He later worked on Ana and the King of Siam for 20th Century Fox. By 1938, he had joined the creative team at Walt Disney Studios where he worked on films including Dumbo and Fantasia.
It was in 1953 that Walt Disney called on his friend to sketch the original design for Disneyland, launching a new direction in his career. It was particularly during these years at WED, now know as Walt Disney Imagineering, that Ryman became a mentor to many younger artists and designers, who still recall his generous spirit and practical advice. He believed so strongly in the importance of continually improving one’s skill, that he championed a staff life drawing workshop at Disney and drew there weekly with colleagues and students for the rest of his life. By the time Ryman died in February 1989, he left behind a legacy not only on canvas and paper, but in theme parks around the world, and among new generations of artists.
In 1989, his sister Lucille Ryman Carroll and his friends decided that the best way to honor his memory was to create an organization focused on the next generation of young artists. Inspired by the legacy of this accomplished commercial and fine artist, the Ryman Arts curriculum continues to emphasize a strong foundation in classical drawing and painting skills. In his spirit, the program mentors young artists with the belief that skill in observation-based, along with a strong practice of traditional life drawing is the foundation for a successful career in art.
Herbert D. Ryman always, as he put it, “kept his fingers working” documenting his many travels around the world in innumerable sketchbooks, capturing the California landscape in his plein air painting, and even traveling with the circus for two summers, painting and drawing the colorful characters he met. Ryman left behind a professional and personal legacy that continues to captivate artists today.
To learn more about the life and art of Herbert D. Ryman, order A Brush with Disney: An Artist’s Journey published by Ryman Arts.