A Golden Age: Original Animation Art from the Walt Disney Studios, 1937-42

Aug 19, 2023
- Dec 9, 2023
1st Floor: The Leah Louise B. Tannenbaum/Space for Engagement

One hundred years ago this fall, on October 16, 1923, two brothers named Walt and Roy Disney opened a modest animation studio in Hollywood, California. Just 14 years later, in 1937, they amazed their audiences with the technological triumph of the world’s first full-length cel animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As one writer for the Los Angeles Times noted, “Snow White will twice amaze you. Once when you see it and hear it and again when it suddenly comes over you that what you saw and heard was 250,000 handmade drawings photographed one frame at a time.” In fact, it is estimated that another 750,000 drawings and sketches were produced by more than 500 Disney artists during the production of the film. From concept paintings to storyboards, character studies to master backgrounds, every element of the movie was crafted by hand.

The Weatherspoon is thrilled to announce its presentation of a selection of these original animation artworks from not just Snow White but also Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, the five films that scholars refer to as the Walt Disney Studios’ “Golden Age.” Collectively, these materials will offer visitors an opportunity to understand the complex and collaborative nature of the animation process.

This exhibition draws on the expertise of Dr. Heather Holian, UNCG professor of art history, who teaches regularly on the history of animation. In her current research on early Disney art exhibitions, Dr. Holian is studying the legacy of the Galerie St. Etienne and its director, Dr. Otto Kallir, who began exhibiting and selling Disney artworks in the 1940s. The Weatherspoon staff is grateful to the present-day Kallir Research Institute for arranging the loan of these artworks from a private collection. And we are thrilled to share that some of these works will become gifts to the Weatherspoon at the close of the exhibition, ensuring opportunities to learn from them for generations of UNCG students to come. “There is absolutely no substitute for teaching—and learning—from an original work of art,” Dr. Holian observes. “The ability to be able to share these Disney originals with my students, as well as those in our new Animation Program, will dramatically deepen their understanding of early animation as a collaborative art form. Students will also get the opportunity to carefully study, firsthand, the materials and techniques employed, and the amazing skill and the creativity of the artists involved. From a teaching perspective, this generous gift is a game-changer.”

This exhibition also launches the Weatherspoon’s new Margaret and Bill Benjamin Faculty Fellowship, with Dr. Holian serving as its inaugural fellow. The Benjamin Fellowship promotes the innovative use of the museum’s collections and exhibitions by fostering curricular collaboration between faculty and Weatherspoon staff. Awardees are supported in developing new content for teaching and learning within their discipline and interactions with campus and community partners.

Join us in the galleries this fall to be a part of this incredible opportunity to engage with both campus scholarship and the art and history of some of animation’s most iconic films.

Faculty members interested in learning more about the Benjamin Fellowship are invited to contact Dr. Emily Stamey, Elizabeth McIver Weatherspoon Curator of Academic Programming and Head of Exhibitions.


  • Lecture: Disney Artworks: From Studio to Screen to Gallery • Thursday, Nov 9 @ 5:30pm