How do you carve out a niche as the principal Disney sculptor when you’re following a bona fide Disney Legend? For Valerie Edwards, director of sculpting for Walt Disney Imagineering, the passing of the tools from the fabled hands of Blaine Gibson has involved the challenge of sculpting the likeness of President Barack Obama.
Edwards’ sculpting is for the Hall of Presidents attraction at Walt Disney World Resort, which is being readied for a red-white-and-blue reopening on July 4. The vintage attraction in the Liberty Square section of Magic Kingdom features Audio-Animatronics likenesses of all the United States presidents. All previous “heads of state” were sculpted by Gibson, now 91 years old.
As Gibson was sculpting the bust of George W. Bush following his election in 2000, he “hinted at the possibility” his role might pass to his protégée, Edwards, when the next president came to office. He’d been mentoring her for a dozen years and recognized the talent of the second-generation Disney artist. Now a 21-year Disney veteran, Valerie is the daughter of Disney animator George Edwards, who worked on projects such as the classic film “Sleeping Beauty.”
As for Valerie: She had a couple of very familiar “portraits” on her resume when she got the call to create the Obama bust. She wielded the sculpting tools behind the uncanny Audio-Animatronics figures of Captain Jack Sparrow and his feature-film nemesis, Barbossa, at the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in Magic Kingdom.
Of her latest project, she comments, “It was a great challenge and, certainly for me, it was time to put my best foot forward. After all, Blaine is a tough act to follow.
“There are techniques and tools that I learned to embrace from him and add to my repertoire,” Edwards continues. “For this kind of work, it’s not only sculpture as fine art, but sculpture as a mechanical art as well – because of all the internal mechanisms built into the figures. Blaine was the guy who developed this type of sculpture, and he had – and still has – so much to share.”
Wrapping it up
We saw the show during the passholder preview and it is a great update to an old favorite. If you are at the Magic Kingdom, you do not want to miss the newly re-opened, Hall of Presidents at Liberty Square.