Book Review: Warp and Weft, Life Canvas of Herbert Ryman by John Stanley Donaldson

Warp and Weft: Life Canvas of Herbert Ryman by John Stanley Donaldson. 2010. 978-0-9843789-0-6.

John Stanley Donaldson knew Herbert Ryman for over thirty years. Herb was his mentor and friend; a lifelong companion and artistic brother. When I received a review copy of Warp and Weft, it came with a personal note from John detailing that the work has been derided as inflammatory and sparking ill will among Disney’s old guard. Following many other Disney-related biographies, I wasn’t sure of John’s intent, but I was hoping that his book would not follow the same path as The Dark Prince or the Neal Gabler conflagration. Both titles have been scorned and refuted by the Disney Company and the Disney Family. I am glad to say that I enjoyed the book and John’s unique perspective.

I wish that there were more books like this that cover the Imagineers and artists of the Disney Company. Herbert Ryman was a true legend, not just a Disney Legend, but a remarkable legend that influenced and touched everyone he came into contact with. It is easy to stand here and tell you that there would be no Disneyland or Walt Disney Word, as we know it, without Herb. After reading this lyrical tome, you get a clearer understanding of that statement. Herb, or Herbie, was a truly influential person in the life and career of Walt Disney. There was a level of mutual respect, friendship and camaraderie between the two geniuses.

A commonition to the reader: John’s writing style has been described as lyrical and it does fit the form of an artist’s pursuit of painting with words on paper. The style is beautiful at the same time it can be ungainly for an inexperienced reader. John rhymes his text, which can throw off the structure of the sentence. For many readers, his style will be a turnoff, but I urge you to complete the book.

Still, what is important is that John has put down an amazing story on paper; one that shows the amazing life that Herb led. A world traveler, burgeoning artist and friend to everyone he met. Where John’s tale turns decidedly darker is when you learn about Herb’s sister, Lucille. She and her husband are painted as the heavies of the book. Actually, they are more than heavies, they are sinister with no other compunction except money and making sure that they get what they deserve. In the case of the book, it is every last possession of Herb Ryman. By the end of the book, you will see other Disney legends in an entirely different light.

The tale, as it unfolds, is mesmerizing simply by the cast of characters that parade through the weave of the book. Many famous celebrities are forced into a connection, some tumultuous, with the Disney Company through their associations with any of the Rymans. From Marylin Monroe to drug smugglers in Florida. My favorite parts of the stories were the anecdotes of Herbie’s travels throughout the world. He truly had a worldwide perspective in his art.

The Author’s website.

This is a book that you have to take a chance on; one that you will need to work through in order to gain its treasures. You will not regret turning the pages, but you will gain a vastly different perspective on Herb Ryman’s life. And on his various colleagues at Disney.

On a personal note, I would like to thank John for the time he spent crafting this biography. He shares many anecdotes about Herb that would be lost otherwise. He also steps forward to advocate for Herb when no one else is able to.

You can purchase the book directly from the author here.

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!

Book Review: A Brush With Disney (Herb Ryman)

A Brush with Disney : An Artist’s Journey, Told through the words and works of Herbert Dickens Ryman 252 pages, 2000.This is an amazing and difficult book to review; not for any reason you would expect. The text is compelling and you learn about the man and the artist. The reproductions of Ryman’s art is outstanding. You understand the gift the man possessed. What makes the book so difficult to review is also what makes it so amazing–there is no eloquent way for me to describe the artwork found in this book. You have to see it to enjoy the amazing pieces of art.The book was put together by Bruce Gordon, David Mumford and the Ryman-Carroll Foundation. Bruce and David also did The Nickel Tour and Walt’s Time. Bruce co-edited The Art of Disneyland and Disneyland: Now, Then and Forever. This work is a love letter from Mr. Ryman’s closest friends, co-workers and family to the legendary artist.

There are four major sections of the book: Odysseys (journeys he took throughout his life), Hollywood (working for major studios), Fantasy Lands & Disney Worlds (Disneyland through Disneyland Paris) and Legacy (The Ryman Foundation). Most Disney enthusiasts will undoubtedly focus on the concept artwork for the theme parks. It is very impressive to see the artwork in one place and realize how much Mr. Ryman was responsible for developing the overall feel for the lands and attractions.

Each land in Disneyland is covered (except Mickey’s Toontown) and we see the progressions that Mr. Ryman makes in his own artwork for the company. The early work for Disneyland is a little more focused on specific areas whereas the latter works seem to be more sweeping and carry more emotional weight.

The other section of the book refer to Mr. Ryman’s non-Disney career. He spent a few years travelling Europe and Asia before doing studio work and he even spent a few years painting portraits of the performers and clowns for the Ringling Brother’s Circus. After his Disneyland and early Magic Kingdom work, he travelled through Europe and Asia again. He never really left Disney; they called him back to work on concepts for Epcot, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland (The Indiana Jones Adventure).

Let’s let the art speak for itself:


Early concept for the Chicken of the Sea at Disneyland.
Tomorrowland at Disneyland.
New Orleans Square concept.
Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom.
Mile Long Bar in Adventureland, Magic Kingdom.
The Science and Invention Pavilion at Epcot.
There is so much more fantastic art throughout the whole book. The few pieces I have shared are just a few of the Disney-related works. So much of his life’s work is more about emotions and feelings than realistic portrayal. In the book, his most powerful statements are from the time he spent painting the Pacific Coast near his home. He effectively captured the mood and feel of the rocky shores. I have read a few criticisms about the book–namely that there is too much sub par art and not enough Disney-focused art. Personally, I was fascinated with all of Mr. Ryman’s art. Not only did it tell of his life, but it shed some light on the influences that were present in his work. Whether it was mood, shadows or vistas; you could immediately sense that you were viewing an artist that was meant to do his work.
Bottom Line: I thoroughly enjoyed this dedication to Herb Ryman. This book isn’t for every Disney Geek, but those enthusiasts with an interest in concept art and a look at the development of a Disney artist will treasure it. The artwork is astounding and there were some surprises within the pages. As is, the book is out of print and you should expect to pay street prices well above the release price. Although it isn’t as spectacular as The Nickel Tour or as comprehensive as The Art of Disneyland, you do see where Mr. Ryman excelled and where his influence was most prominent. If you can snag a copy of it, you will not be disappointed.

Don’t forget to stop by our site and leave some Disney Geek love!