Thursday, 9 December 2010


Well, the Christmas cards are already pouring in and, shame on us, we haven't done a single one! This is partly due to the pressure of work deadlines coupled with the fact that we are having to prepare to move out of our home of many years occupation. So, apologies to friends for the lack of seasonal greetings this year...

Anyway, the daily influx of images of robins, snowmen and stagecoaches reminded me that for some twenty years my Christmas was given an extra Disney dimension of pleasure through the receipt of personal greetings cards from some of the great Disney animators and artists: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, Marc and Alice Davis, Joe Grant and, the subject of today's post, John Hench.

I first met John, legendary artist and Imagineer, early in 1982 when I visited Glendale, California, and Orlando, Florida, to research a BBC TV documentary on Disney's EPCOT which was, finally, under construction at Walt Disney World.

I was thrilled to visit the studios and workshops of Disney Imagineering and quickly made what would prove to be long-lasting friendships with a number of the creative personnel and, in particular, the unit's President, Marty Sklar, and Senior Vice President John Hench.

John was a true 'Renaissance Man' as all who know of his work will agree: his contribution to animated films from Fantasia through to Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan; his influential work in shaping the Disney theme park experience in Disneyland, Walt Disney World or any of the other parks where his philosophy of entertaining and managing people is still followed; his illustrations to Disney picture books or his 'official portraits' of Mickey Mouse painted for the studio over a number of years.

The opening of EPCOT Center in October 1982, was marked by – amongst many media events – my TV programme, Waltopia. Two months later, I received my first Christmas card from John celebrating the EPCOT achievement...

John Hench signed Christmas Card 1982 (front)

John Hench signed Christmas Card 1982 (inside)
Click on any image to see larger versions

John and I renewed our friendship a few years later, in 1985, when I was back in Los Angeles making the first of several radio series and specials on Disney subjects.

That year, we began exchanging Christmas cards and continued to do so until shortly before his death in 2004 at the age of 95.

Here for your enjoyment are eighteen years of seasonal Hench artwork demonstrating his diverse skills as a draughtsman and his wide-ranging interest in art...


John Hench Christmas Card 1985


John Hench Christmas Card 1986

John's 1886 design is inspired by the woodcuts of the German Renaissance artist, Hans Weiditz the Younger (1495–c.1537), also known as The Petrarch Master


John Hench Christmas Card 1987

The 'Friends' depicted on either side of John and his wife, Lowry, are (to the left) Salvador Dali (with whom John had worked on the planned Disney film, Destino), Henri Matisse and René Magritte; and (to the right) Pierre Bonnard and the young and old Pablo Picasso. As the inscription in the bottom left hand corner explains, the piece is also a tribute to the 19th Century French caricaturist, Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, known by the pseudonym, J J Grandville.


John Hench Christmas Card 1988

This card is a tribute to the magic of the 18th Century French conjuror, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who illusions included the magic portfolio from which all kinds of wonders would be produced. John and Lowry's cat is AII: both a paper-size and short for Arabella II, the first Arabella having departed the previous year (hence her appearance in angel-form on the puppet booth in the previous card)


John Hench Christmas Card 1989

A magic lantern tribute to Salvador Dali. The emblematic head is a pastiche of one created by Dali for the Disney film Destino


John Hench Christmas Card 1990

This card is in the style of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (now in the Morgan Library and Museum), an ornately illuminated manuscript in the Gothic style, made in about 1440 by the anonymous Dutch artist known as the 'Master of Catherine of Cleves'



John Hench Christmas Card 1992


John Hench Christmas Card 1993

John celebrates 'the best spaghetti factory': Fratelli De Cecco di Filippo in Arbruzzo, Italy


John Hench Christmas Card 1994

Salvador Dali (this time his museum in Figueres, Catalonia) once again provides the inspiration for a Hench Christmas card


John Hench Christmas Card 1995

Port Lligat was the location of Salvador Dali's home on the Costa Brava. On the reverse John acknowledged receipt of a copy of the book Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs': The Making of the Classic Film which I wrote with Richard Holliss

John Hench Christmas Card 1995 (back)


John Hench Christmas Card 1996


John Hench Christmas Card 1997

The card carries the message, 'Les Heureux Presages' – The lucky Omens


John Hench Christmas Card 1998

On his 1998 card, John renders the artist and his cat as Magritte-like windows onto a sea-scape


John Hench Christmas Card 1999

A Chaucerian feast for Christmas 1999


John Hench Christmas Card 2000

An inscription on the reverse explains John's 2000 design...

John Hench Christmas Card 2000 (back)


John Hench Christmas Card 2001

The caption reads: 'A stimulating environment produces neurogenesis!' Neurogenesis (birth of neurons) is the process by which neurons are generated. Most active during pre-natal development, neurogenesis is responsible for populating the growing brain with neurons. In addition to bells, trumpets, candy canes and holly, the imagery on this 2001 card features a Dali lobster-telephone


John Hench Christmas Card 2002
Click on any image to see larger versions


Anonymous said...

Great cards! Thanks for posting.

Brian Sibley said...

Anonymous left a comment that, for some reason, Blogger wouldn't allow me publish. Anyway, here's what Anon wrote:

"Excellent stuff thank you for posting these cards, and thank you for your friendship for the past twenty five years!"

Not sure who you are, but – if we have really known each other for 25 years – you can't be that anonymous! :)

Brian Sibley said...

I accidentally rejected the following comment from Mark Stutz (sorry, Mark!) but this is what he said...

"Thank you for sharing these. They are truly a treasure and an artist legacy.

"I was there (WDI) during a portion of those years and as I recall the only ones who received a Xmas card were his lady friends!!"

Well, I was lucky then! Most of them are hand-coloured...

Very impressive web-site, Mark!

DisWedWay said...

Back in the WED days and on into the WDI Days, one was very lucky to receive a John Hench Christmas card. You did not have to be one of his favorite female Artists or Colorists, but if John held your work there in high regard you might get a Greeting from him. I'm glad he thought so of my work and gave me the nod on quite a few occasions over the years.

DisWedWay said...

Back in the WED days and on into the WDI Days, one was very lucky to receive a John Hench Christmas card. You did not have to be one of his favorite female Artists or Colorists, but if John held your work there in high regard you might get a Greeting from him. I'm glad he thought so of my work and gave me the nod on quite a few occasions over the years.

Brian Sibley said...

I'm sorry I can't personally respond to your comment, but your Blogger profile is hidden. However, thank you for sharing this memory and I'm glad you knew John –– and made it onto his Christmas card list! All good wishes, B