originally published 5/26/13
By MICHAEL FORTUNA, DAILY SUN STAFF WRITER
THE VILLAGES — Alex Maher knew at the age of 5 he wanted to work at Disney.
And with hard work and a little pixie dust, he made that wish come true.
The Orlando resident is now a character artist at Walt Disney World, where many of his drawings and designs on items from paintings to pins can be found throughout the theme parks.
Maher paid a visit to the Mickey’s Fanatics club, which met May 23 at Colony Cottage Recreation Center, to draw sketches of several Disney characters throughout the evening.
This was his second appearance drawing sketches for the group. On another occasion, Maher gave a talk on the history of Walt Disney.
“I love groups like this,” Maher said. “They keep the memory of Walt Disney alive. Never forget Walt.”
After Maher was finished sketching, his drawings were auctioned, with the proceeds going to Villages Honor Flight.
As a surprise, club president Debbie Winters revealed that one of Maher’s painted prints would be up for bid. This print, “Walt’s Miniature Backyard Railroad,” featured Mickey Mouse riding on a miniature train. As a bonus, Maher drew Mickey wearing a conductor’s hat on the back of the print.
Chris and Gail Waddell, of the Village of Pennecamp, ended up with the winning bid.
“We had been looking for some artwork to show the wonderful experience of Disney,” Chris said. “(Maher) is a talented artist who has a passion for drawing the Disney characters and keeping Walt Disney’s memory fresh and alive.”
Winters had met Maher at Downtown Disney and asked him to visit Mickey’s Fanatics.
“I love his artwork,” said Winters, of the Village of Country Club Hills. “He’s a Disney character artist. He gives the whole essence of Mickey. Every picture looks like Mickey Mouse.”
Winters especially likes the way he draws the characters’ eyes.
“That’s the most important thing,” Winters said.
Maher, who grew up in Miami, decided to take a leap of faith toward his dream, so he and his wife quit their jobs and moved to Orlando. He eventually met people who knew people in the art department at Walt Disney World.
In 1991, Maher was able to show his portfolio — which featured drawings of Mickey, Jessica Rabbit and Roger Rabbit — to the director of the department.
“He whispered to his assistant, ‘We found another one,’” Maher said. “I was excited, but I held back. I let out a big ‘yeah!’ in the car.”
Since getting the job, Maher has drawn everyone from the Fab Five (Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto) to Chip and Dale to the princesses, and they’ve been seen on T-shirts, coffee mugs and figurines, among other items.
In addition to drawing various items, Maher mentors younger artists, teaching them about the heritage of Disney and maintaining the integrity of the characters.
He also has been involved with pin development for the past 13 years, coming up with designs for the new millennium.
Maher said he still gets a nice feeling whenever he sees one of his designs out in the world.
“I feel so honored that they bought something I designed,” Maher said.
At first, Maher had an interest in being an animator, but after becoming a character artist, he found his calling.
“I get to draw characters from the ‘20s on up,” Maher said. “In animation, you draw a new (character) nobody knows (yet).”
Mickey’s Fanatics, which has been around since 2011, now has about 500 members, many of whom take trips down to Walt Disney World.
“(When you go to Disney World,) you can escape from reality,” Winters said. “It’s the happiest place on Earth. You can act like a kid. It’s for everybody. For our age group, we’re reliving our childhood. We can share our love of Disney with our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”