Joyce Carlson was an American artist and designer credited with creating the idyllic universe of singing children at "It's a Small World" rides at Walt Disney theme parks around the world. Carlson also worked as an ink artist in the Walt Disney Animation Studios, on such films as Cinderella, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. She was the lead ink artist for the 1955 Disney classic Lady and the Tramp. She spent 56 years working on Disney's animated films and theme park attractions.
Joyce Carlson was born in Racine, Wisconsin on March 16, 1923. Her family moved to Southern California in 1938 when she was a teenager. Carlson graduated from Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, California. She initially did not want to become a designer.
Carlson first became involved with Walt Disney Productions in Burbank, California in 1944, when she took a job delivering mail, coffee and office supplies. She later stated that she took the job at Disney simply because she needed the work.
Carlson created a pen-and-ink portfolio of her sketches several months after she began working at Disney, and presented it to her employers. She was hired into a position in the Disney studio's ink and paint department. This particular department was nicknamed "the nunnery" at the time because many of its employees were women who sometimes worked 16-hour days in order to finish Disney's feature films on time.
Her first work was on short, Disney-produced training films made for the United States Army during World War II. However, Carlson was soon promoted to feature films, which she worked on for 16 years. Her credits included Cinderella, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. She was further promoted to lead ink artist during the production of the 1955 animated feature film Lady and the Tramp.
By 1960 the technology used in animation had changed, which meant that ink artists were no longer needed in the animation process. That same year, Carlson began working as a designer for the Disney theme attractions design department, which later became known as Walt Disney Imagineering. (The first Disney theme park, Disneyland, had opened in 1955).
Carlson helped to create the original models and designs for the "It's a Small World" attraction, which debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair. She was one of a select group of artists and designers who were sent to New York City by Disney in order to create attractions for the World's Fair. Within the Disney Company, she became known as the artist who designed many of the famous ride's singing dolls. Following its debut at the World's Fair, "It's a Small World" opened first in Disneyland; Carlson later helped bring her signature attraction to Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.
She continued to work on newer attractions at Disneyland, Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Resort Paris. She served as a mentor to several high-profile theme park attraction designers including Mary Blair, John Hench and Grace Bailey.
Carlson moved to Central Florida, the location of Disney World, in 1982. She became the first female Disney employee to reach the 50 and 55 years of employment milestone in 1994. She was working at Walt Disney World as a senior show production designer at the time.
Carlson officially retired from her full-time position at Disney in 2000, but remained at Disney World part-time until at least 2006 and continued to mentor Disney Imagineers through 2007. She was declared a "Disney Legend" in 2000 and honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. The commemorative window, which is Disney's version of a hall of fame, is a rare honor bestowed on employees who have made significant contributions to the company and its theme parks. Carlson's window, which is on the second floor of a structure along Main Street U.S.A, reads, "Dolls by Miss Joyce, Dollmaker for the World."
Joyce Carlson died of cancer at the age of 84 at her home in Orlando, Florida on January 2, 2008. She was survived by her sister, Veryl Jones, Her nieces, Kathy Kibby and Nancy Dempsey and their children, Amy Garman, Brian Young and Scott Neal.