The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod              


Elmer Plummer, Artist and Disney Illustrator

July 30, 2012


Breath-taking. Dazzling. Surprising, humourous, delightful. Many words can be used to describe the art created by Elmer Plummer. Creator of brilliantly-coloured pastels, intricate paintings featuring people busy in daily life, and one of Disney's captivating artists, Plummer made good art that any and all could enjoy. Another word could be used to describe the work of Elmer Plummer - inspiring.


A sunny-west-coast boy through and through, Elmer Ginzel Plummer was born in Redlands, California in 1910. Redlands is a small city in southern California, near the City of San Bernardino. In that year, the population was just under 11,000.

Plummer began his art training in high school, studying watercolours. His parents sent him to a San Diego-region military school when he was a teenager, but his heart was still in art. Receiving a three-year scholarship, Plummer enrolled at the famous Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California. There, he was taught by prominent artist, muralist and architect Millard Sheets.

Graduating, the young artist found work with Warner Brothers in 1934. "Plummer soon became close friends with Walt Disney and worked at the Disney Studios," said California Watercolors. "He produced art and developed many of the gag and comic ideas for cartoon shorts featuring Goofy." A good fit with the Disney team, Plummer's talented hands contributed to the classic films of "The Three Caballeros," "Dumbo,""Fantasia," and more.

"Tightrope Girl" by Elmer Plummer  
A California Scene by Elmer Plummer

A productive artist, Plummer was creating beautiful watercolours in the early 1930s. His perceptive eye and talent with the brush captured the simple motions of daily life.

A member of the California Watercolor Society, Plummer created paintings for "the Works Progress Administration and also exhibited extensively, with Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco," stated S.J. Heffen Fine Arts in a biography of Elmer Plummer, noted on AskArt.

Disneyland Attraction Poster, "Tightrope Walker," Hand-painted by Elmer Plummer, no longer in use.  
Fine Art Painting by Elmer Plumme: "Early morning traffic," 1932. (A California Scene, Orange County Museum of Art.)  

Awards were not long in coming for the capable artist. Prizes earned at California State Fairs, Los Angeles County Fairs, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Los Angeles Art Association each recognized the immense talents of Elmer Plummer. His spectacular paintings were sold in California art galleries and at art shows.

World War Two came along, putting a hitch in Plummer's work. After the War, he worked on Disney projects and taught at his alma mater, the Chouinard Art School, along with the California Institute of the Arts. Passing on his vast knowledge, Plummer inspired many young artists to do great works. But something had changed for Plummer. After the mid-1940s, Plummer "painted but rarely exhibited his art," said California Watercolor.

Elmer Plummer died on December 31, 1986 at Junction City, Oregon. An immense talent, it is a shame his name and works did not become a popular part of North American culture.

Brilliantly Colored Pastel Work by Elmer Plummer

Pastel Painting in Vibrant Colours by Elmer Plummer,

Hmm. it is so difficult, so compllicated, to find an appropriate description. Perhaps the word for the art of Elmer Plummer should be... magnificent.

© Susanna McLeod 2012