Recent Acquisitions: 1936 Scrapbook of a Mickey Mouse Inker

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Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds every Friday.

In 1936, a young woman named Ingeborg Willy went to work at Walt Disney Studios as an inker, responsible for every black line on any given page, a substantial task when it came to Mickey Mouse. The pace and mood of an animated story rests on a fulcrum that is the inker, but if Willy felt any pressure, it is nowhere to be seen in the scrapbook she kept of her first year in the ink and paint department.

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"The acquisition excites me because it's a personal documentation of events in a time in history, and for me, there couldn't be a better addition to the collection," explained Michael Labrie, director of collections at the Walt Disney Family Museum. He had other notebooks kept by employees at the museum, but they tended to have a more narrow focus, such as special effects, without any clues that might help historians get a better sense of the professional atmosphere at the studio, or the life of Walt Disney.

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The scrapbook contains little commentary by Willy, but what is clear is that the inker relished in what looked to be a very exciting workplace. She included materials that spoke to her specific experience -- from pay stubs, time cards, and various internal memos, a personalized photo from Walt Disney himself -- and the studio as a whole. Ingeborg pasted original drawings alongside magazine cutouts featuring the actors who provided the models and voices for characters that would quickly become classics, including Dopey, Bashful, and the evil Queen. Her brief captions provide enough background to appreciate the often playful, candid photos of employees, including animators and airbrushers at their desks, prototypes of "Pluto, the Pup in Person," and a stuffed Mickey Mouse perched on a wall, looking noble from below. Clarence Nash, better known as Donald Duck, is shown walking towards what is later identified as "The Comic Strip Bungalow." There are several pictures of "Marjorie Belcher as 'Snow White,'" posing in different, but identifiable versions of the long iconic dress with short, puffy sleeves.

At a time when most women were most often relegated to the role of secretary in an office, Willy shows plenty of women working as checkers, color arrangers, mixing colors in the painting lab, and guarding the film vaults. Underneath a picture of a woman in a short-sleeved button-down shirt and pinned bob is the caption, "Martharose Bode is Inking Supervisor." Another features a group of women holding the various tools of their trade, pausing for "A Brief Chat," and eight women lined up in height order are identified as "'Our Gang' from 6'2 ½ to 4'10 ½." The women seemed to enjoy smoke breaks, afternoon tea, and lunches under trees. Some of the best group shots reveal intimacy as the women lean into each other on the couch during "A Gossip," or link arms during smoke breaks.

Willy was an excellent accidental archivist who, by documenting her first year of work, sheds light on an important year, 1936-37, in the studio's history. Three Orphan Kittens (1935) earned an Academy Award for best short subject that year, but the studio was focused on developing its first ever full-length feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The scrapbook is undergoing substantial conservation work, but there are several pages currently on display, and more to come in the upcoming special exhibition, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of Classic," which will open on November 15 in celebration of its 75th anniversary.

The Walt Disney Family Museum is located at 104 Montgomery (at Lincoln, in the Presidio). The museum is open Wednesday-Monday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission is $12-$20.

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The Walt Disney Family Museum

104 Montgomery, San Francisco, CA

Category: General

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