Lee E. Blair; Artist Won Olympic Medal for Painting

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Lee E. Blair, artist and Disney animator who had the rare distinction of winning an Olympic gold medal for watercolor painting, has died. He was 81.

Blair died of heart failure in Santa Cruz on June 19.

The Los Angeles native won his gold medal in 1932, the first year the Olympics were staged in Los Angeles, for a watercolor of a rodeo. The painting was donated to a high school and has since been lost.

According to the “Encyclopedia of the Olympic Games,” gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for art at the quadrennial Olympics from 1912 to 1948. The gold medal was given for watercolors only twice--in 1928 to Jean Jacoby of Luxembourg, and in 1932 to Blair.


Educated at Los Angeles’ Chouinard Art Institute, which has been absorbed by the California School of Fine Arts, Blair began his career at the Walt Disney Studios as an animator and director. He contributed to such Disney classics as “Pinocchio,” “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”

He served in the Navy during World War II, making animated training films on military tactics.

In 1946, Blair began his own production company, Film-TV Graphics, based on New York’s Long Island. The firm made television commercials and industrial films.

Blair served as president of the New York Film Producers Assn. and set up a section of the New York mayor’s office to deal with film, radio and television.

He continued his work in watercolors, always telling a story in his paintings--children dressing up on Halloween or families cavorting on the beach.

During the 1930s, Blair served two terms as president of the California Watercolor Society.


In 1933, he received the William Church Osborn Purchase Prize from the American Watercolor Society, and in 1981 he was elected to the group’s prestigious Dolphin Fellowship. In 1983, he earned a life membership in the society “in recognition of unusual achievement in the advancement of watercolor painting in America.”

Blair’s watercolors hang in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

He is survived by two sons, Kevin of Brentwood and Donovan of San Jose, and a brother.