For Peoria, Illinois local, Steve Spain, the Happiest Place on Earth might not be Disneyland, it might be his basement.
Spain is a long-time fan of Disney, as well as an avid collector of film art and memorabilia from the Golden Age of Walt Disney animation. His impressive collection of framed Walt Disney animation celluloids and Disney collectibles inhabit the large basement ‘museum’ that he has built, to display his prized collection.
Raised in Disney’s Golden Age
Spain was raised in Illinois during what is now known as the Golden Age of Disney animation. This refers to the beginning of the Disney Animated Canon when Walt Disney was still alive, and the time during which a large amount of successful films were released, many of which have become iconic. The era is said to begin with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, and includes all of the classic Disney films such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Peter Pan and many more.
Spain’s passion for Disney films only grew as he got older, and found himself right in the middle of the quickly evolving world of film.
“When I was a senior in college, I got a job as a movie projectionist. Many of the theatres that I worked in showed Disney films frequently. As I watched these films over and over - I began to appreciate the beauty of the artwork, story and music.”
A Passion for Artwork
Throughout Walt’s lifetime, he often referred to Walt Disney Animation as ‘magical’, romanticising the work the studio was producing and describing the process as one in which art ‘came to life’. What he inadvertently created was an awe of mystery surrounding Disney animation. It was this magical essence that would pave the way for fans such as Steve to become fascinated with the animation process, and with the artwork that would go on to become collector’s items.
“When I was in my early 30s, I discovered a book at the local library entitled Treasures of Disney Animation Art, by John Canemaker. I fell in love with the artwork that was used to produce these classic Disney films. Shortly thereafter, I began to search for and collect original Disney art from films from the 1930s through the 1950s.”
Most of his collection surrounds Disney’s classic films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. In classic animation such as the early Disney films, one second of footage is made up of 24 frames. A cel, or celluloid is one of these 24 frames. The most prized piece in Spain’s collection is a celluloid Cinderella in her ball gown, applied to an original production background used in the film.
The piece is then inscribed and signed by Walt Disney himself.
“For a Disney collector, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
The celluloid is addressed to Wally Boag, who worked for Walt Disney himself, in the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon. “To Wally, Best wishes, Walt Disney.”
The Basement Museum
Spain’s Disney collection inhabits the large basement space in his home which has been converted into a sleek, modern living room.
“The Disney room just sort of evolved over the years. When I first began collecting Disney art I needed a place to hang them. Later I added the home theatre, track lighting, curio cabinets, Mickey chairs, etc. All of our Disney items are in this room - I think it adds to the "Wow" factor. When folks come over for the first time, they are a little surprised. Many have said, "this is like a museum".”
Spain’s collection, though largely populated by classic Disney art, also includes Disney porcelains, marionettes, and 3D figures made at the studio. He also has two whimsical red Mickey chairs from home décor designer Ethan Allen’s line of Disney furniture.
His Recently Published Book
After years of studying and collecting this early art, Spain decided to put his knowledge on paper. He has recently written and published a book about the art of Disney’s Golden Age films, outlining how the films were made and featuring photos from his private collection.
The book is available for purchase on Ebay.
Spain and his wife have been married for almost 40 years, and have two children together, as well as a granddaughter. Of course, having a family naturally means the perfect excuse for trips to The Happiest Place on Earth. Spain's first trip to Disneyland was in 1968.
“We've been fortunate enough to visit Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California, as well as taking part in a Disney Cruise, and other touring events like Disney on Ice. I remember special moments which are usually "firsts". The first time we took my son to Disney World he was four years old. The first time we took my daughter to Disneyland she was one year old. Two months ago, we took my granddaughter to Disney World. She is four years old.”
The entire family enjoys their experiences at Disney, but are divided about which park is the best one.
“My favorite park is probably Disneyland because that is the original and the one that Walt actually walked. My family, however, prefer Disney World because of all the amenities and sheer size. My favorite attraction after all these years is still Pirates of the Caribbean.”