On a Saturday morning in September 1953, Walt Disney stood over the shoulder of artist Herb Ryman as he sketched an idea for an amusement project that would appeal to both children and adults. Walt’s brother Roy was going to New York that Monday to line up financing for Disneyland and he wanted Roy to “show” them what he planned to build.
Over a single weekend, which became known as the “lost weekend,” Herb used a small carbon pencil to illustrate Walt’s dreams on paper. Within two years, those dreams were transformed into reality and Disneyland became the first theme park of its kind in the world.
Herbie, as he was called by friends and co-workers, had an uncanny ability to interpret Walt’s ideas into drawings. Marty Sklar, former vice chairman and principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), once said, “Herbie was like our own little Tinker Bell at WDI. He was always sprinkling pixie dust on everyone and he never grew up. He had a tremendous curiosity for everything and everybody.”
Herb first met Walt Disney in Los Angeles at a gallery exhibit of his work. Walt was so impressed with the paintings on display that he invited Herb to join the Walt Disney Studio. While Herb went on to serve as an art director for such feature-length animated classics as “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” Disneyland became the centerpiece of his Disney career. Among his contributions were designs for Main Street, U.S.A., Sleeping Beauty Castle and New Orleans Square. Herb also contributed concepts for the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and for attractions featured at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, including Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
Herb retired in 1971 only to return a few years later as a full-time consultant, sketching numerous conceptual drawings for Epcot Center. His work for that park included detailed park renderings as well as inspirational paintings for The American Adventure and the China Pavilion, among others. He also developed the popular Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World Resort and the Meet the World attraction at Tokyo Disneyland.
Herb shares a window with two other talented Disney artists, John Hench and Peter Ellenshaw. Their window, which simply states, “Plaza School of Art – Instructors,” is actually located on Plaza Street (adjacent to Main Street, U.S.A.) above Main Street Photo Supply Co.
Herb passed away on February 10, 1989, while still working on ideas for Disneyland Paris. He was named a Disney Legend in 1990.