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[Editor’s note: This is part one of a guest post by artist and former Disneyland Cast Member Sam Carter. The story and images below showcase a mural Sam painted on the walls of N-19, the backstage Parades building, between 2001-2003. WDWNT.com is pleased to bring you this unique look at the history of Disneyland’s parades and shows, from the park’s opening through the 50th anniversary, through a mural that most Disney fans have never been able to see. Part two of the article will look at the final piece of the mural, dedicated to Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary. Our deep thanks to Sam for this contribution. You can find Sam’s artwork online at SamCarterArt.com and following him on Twitter at @Cartarsauce ]
I’ve always been two things, an artist and into Disney. I was the guy who in high school, would be the only person in the group who wanted to watch the parade at Disneyland. There was something about those huge rolling sculptures down the street that I thought was pretty cool. The stars aligned and in March of 1995 I was hired into the Parade department. Show Services was the team that made it happen behind the scene – drive floats, tow them on route when they break down, date the dancers, etc. It was more of a fraternity than a job. That first summer I was assigned to be a float driver in the Main Street Electrical Parade. I got to drive almost everything, something different each night. Needless to say with my passion for what my job was at the time, I was invested deeply.
Fast forward about 5 years later, Parades got a brand new building backstage, “N-19”. It was right behind the flat faded green hills of ToonTown. It looked more like a doctors office than a place that made so much magic. I happened to mention to my manager that there should be some sort of art in the main hallway that depicted the history of the parades in the park. I thought it was important that the people working there knew the legacy of this department. Never thinking anything would really come of it, I got the green light. But sadly they couldn’t pay me for it, it would have to be done on my own time. I didn’t mind, I just wanted it to happen. Luckily with Parades, there was always a couple of hours in between shows with nothing to do.
To start off, I needed to do some research. There was an archive in TDA (the big yellow admin building) that I was allowed to look through for references. Found some good stuff there, but still needed more. They allowed me to drive up to Burbank and visit the Disney Studios to take a look at their archive. The legendary Dave Smith was still working there at the time and was nice enough to help me find everything I was looking for. I recognized him from his caricature drawing in the Disney News Magazine, spot on. Of course they had parades before the Electrical Parade starting in 1972, but to be honest it was pretty random, and more of character cavalcades that happened to be coming down the street. And since at that time we just brought Electrical Parade back (after “glowing away forever”) to the brand new California Adventure, I really liked having this wall be bookended by the Electrical Parade. It was the quintessential Disneyland Parade, and represented so much. With all that in place, it was time to paint.
The paintbrush first hit the wall in September 2001. Then, 9-11. Not the best time to spend extra time at the Happiest Place on Earth, which was constantly mentioned on the news as a target for something awful. At this time I just started the second Parade in this timeline, “America On Parade” 1975. I’m not sure if other artists are like me, but when I look at any old art of mine, I remember who I was talking to at the time, what we were talking about, or what TV show was on in the background, etc. So when I look at this patriotic parade celebrating the bicentennial, every emotion from 9-11 hits me like it was yesterday.
The shock of people seeing a kid painting on the walls was something everyone had to get used to. Most thought I didn’t get permission. Seriously? I had endless chats with Cast Members on their way to somewhere who were fascinated with what was going on. It took two years from start to finish. It was the biggest project I ever agreed to do, and once I started there was no going back. After I finished the first main chunk, I went to a trophy shop and had names and years engraved for each on the placards you see underneath. I gladly welcomed some assistance from my friend Erik, he was equally as passionate and a decent artist. I handed off the “Snow White Parade” that the park had for the film’s 50th Anniversary, I think it was his first Parade he performed in. He also wanted to paint some of the characters he performed as, sprinkled throughout the timeline. I was all for the help, that meant one less thing for me to do on this beast of a wall. I’d say the entire wall was about 100 feet, and lived mostly between the performer lockers and the wig/make-up room, so there were often mass crowds running back and forth behind me while I painted. I’m confident that I could paint in any war zone because of that kind of conditioning.
The archives provided a good resource of reference photos of the Parades, but not as much as the people walking by. A bunch of folks would say they have all these pictures at home and would give me there personal photos to go off of. As the Parades got to the more modern era, I would actually paint the people that I knew in the wall from their photos provided. After everyone started recognizing people I was hit every 5 minutes with a “Can you put me in there?”. I did what I could.
Although I wasn’t technically paid for this painting, the real reward was that I was noticed by the Disneyland Art Department which jump-started my career. After 10 years in Parades I landed a sweet job in Creative Entertainment where I worked for 7 epic years until I left Disneyland in 2012 to be the Creative Director at USC. I also have freelanced on themed entertainment projects, such as Springfield USA at Universal Studios and the Glow in the Park Parade at various Six Flags. And I’m currently working on some fun projects with Magic Castle, Queen Mary, and the Winchester Mystery House. I even got to return to Disney to be a featured artist at WonderGround at Downtown Disney. You can find all my available art at SamCarterArt.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @Cartarsauce.
[Editor’s note: The Disneyland Resort 50th Anniversary section of the mural was the last section Sam Carter completed. It featured both parades that debuted for the anniversary:Parade of Dreams in Disneyland and Block Party Bash in Disney California Adventure. We’ll showcase that mural along with several photos of its creation in part two of this story.]
Jill has been visiting Walt Disney World since she was two years old. She credits her ongoing Disney love to her family, especially her grandmother, brother, and nieces. You can reach her at [email protected]