Early Disney illustrators, movie posters on view at Norman Rockwell Museum


STOCKBRIDGE -- Running through the dark forest, she is attacked at every angle by the spindly fingers of angered trees. Dodging rocks, she desperately attempts to remain on the path. This scene may not immediately come mind when most people think of Disney’s "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." But Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren chose it for one of the posters he painted for the movie.

Lined up on each side, underneath Snow White’s terrified figure, stand the Seven Dwarfs. Although similar, Tenggren’s Dwarfs, and his Snow White, do not look exactly as they did in the movie, because he painted his artwork while the film was in pre-production.

"Tenggren [created] the preliminary design and mood. The animators took it" and built on it, explained Tony Anselmo, a longtime Disney animator and collector of Disney movie posters, as well at the voice of Donald Duck.

Tenggren also worked on the background design in the movie, especially concentrating on the forest exteriors and the interior of the Dwarf’s cottage. He worked in fine detail, Anselmo said.

Tenggren began to work for Disney in 1936, after Disney displayed an interest in finding someone who could do European illustrations to his team. Before working on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Tenggren illustrated many books -- Scandinavian myths and folklore with elves and trolls, Grimm’s fairy tales, and a new release of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "Tanglewood Tales," a collection of Greek myths for children Hawthorne wrote in the Berkshires.

Tenggren also painted magazine illustrations -- like Norman Rockwell. His "Snow White" poster, along with four others, hang on display in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The creation of a classic" at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Anselmo remembers the first time he saw "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," during the 1967 re-release, when he was 7.

"It played on emotions that everyone has," he said: love, joy, fear and heartbreak.

When he was 4, Anselmo decided he wanted to work at Disney. As a boy he began writing to the "nine old men," Disney’s core animators at the time (Les Clark, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Frank Thomas). Most of them joined the studio in the 1930s and started out working on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Anselmo would ask questions about their craft and what he needed to learn. Johnston, an assistant animator on "Snow White" and directing animator from then on, wrote back to him.

When he finished college, he joined Tenggren’s ranks.

Movie posters have advertised new actors and plots since the days of silent films. They attracted attention with bright colors, detailed pictures and sparse use of words. In the 1960s, posters started to contain photographs in place of the painted portrait, and today the hand-painted poster of Tenggren’s day has become obsolete.

Although he is chiefly known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, Rockwell himself painted six movie posters during his lifetime: "Magnificent Ambersons" (1941), "The Song of Bernadette" (1943), "Along Came Jones" (1945), "The Razor’s Edge" (1946), "Cinderfella" (1960), and the remake of "Stagecoach" (1966).

He painted only part of each poster, commented Joyce K. Schiller, curator of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.

Rockwell was a "big name" and extremely well known by the time he began painting posters, she said. He even played a cameo role in "Stagecoach."

But though he worked with other artists on these posters, his illustrations took time and care. Tenggren and Rockwell’s work was not something done quickly or easily, Schiller said.

"Each artist moves at their own pace," she explained, "but rarely does a finished painting get completed in just one sitting. The work they produced for an advertising poster would have been just as important as any other commission. This was the way they earned their living."

Rockwell first became involved with Hollywood on a trip to California in 1930, when he stayed there with friends after divorcing his first wife.

Clyde Forsythe, who used to share a studio with him in New York, introduced him to Walt Disney while he was visiting. (Disney was then experimenting with color animation for what would become the first full-color animated film, his "Silly Symphonies Flowers and Trees." He would begin work on Snow white in 1934.)

From that moment on, Rockwell and Disney became friends. They wrote to each other regularly for many years, and, 13 years later Rockwell again visited California. On this trip, he gave Disney one of his paintings, "Girl Reading the Post."

In turn, Disney sent his friend ceramic figurines of some of his most recent film characters.

Despite his Hollywood connections, Rockwell never considered moving from New England, Schiller said.

Today posters painted by hand are a thing of the past. Photographs and digitally manufactured illustrations have replaced them. Tenggren or Rockwell’s long hours and attention to detail may seem old-fashioned, and we have found quicker, more efficient techniques. But would someone treasure a poster from a 2013 movie 50 years from now as much as people today cherish one created in 1963?

Look up the posters Rockwell painted. Visit the Snow White exhibit. Stand a foot away from the posters and lobby cards created for Disney’s first full-length feature film, and decide.

If you go ...

What: ’Snow White --
The Making of a Classic’

When: Through Oct. 27

Where: Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Route 183, Stockbridge

Information: www.nrm.org


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