Around the world with Disney

Larry Davis is a YSU alumnus who now has a career with Disney.

Larry Davis

Larry A. Davis, ’76 BFA

It all started with an order for 50 bronze Mickey Mouse statues. Larry Davis was a graduate student living in California when he landed that freelance job casting figurines for Walt Disney.

The YSU alumnus never guessed that the Mickey Mouse assignment would launch an exciting and challenging 25-year career with Disney.

Growing up in Salem, Ohio, Davis dreamed of becoming a rock star, and he was the drummer for a local rock band when he enrolled as a freshman biology major at YSU. He had dropped out of school to focus on the band when he discovered his artistic talent by chance – he painted on the walls of the old house that he rented with friends, and people loved his work.

“Reality set in. I changed my major to art, went back to school full-time, and that’s when college became fun for me,” he said.  Davis enjoyed everything he tried – painting, photography, weaving, jewelry making – but he found his niche in sculpture.

Richard C. Mitchell, a YSU sculpture professor who is now a faculty emeritus, was the mentor who encouraged Davis to go on to graduate school after earning his BFA  at YSU in 1976. He applied at several universities ­– and received some rejections. “Finally I just packed up my rusty Ford Pinto and drove to California,” he said. He didn’t find out until he arrived that he’d been accepted at California State University’s fine arts graduate program in Long Beach.

As a sculptor, Davis liked combining metals and exotic woods, and he became adept at the multi-step bronze-casting process. A Cal State professor who worked for Disney recognized his talent and recruited Davis for the Mickey Mouse figurine project.

That job was followed by other work with the entertainment giant, and soon after earning his MFA degree he was on Disney’s payroll. Davis collaborated on development of the Epcot theme park in Disney World for its opening in 1982, then spent 12 years as a Disney store art director, designing and opening new retail centers in Paris, London, Tokyo, New York and other major cities across the world.

When Disney sold all its retail stores, Davis was facing a job loss, but he quickly landed another position at Disneyland. He was charged with renovating aging retail shops at the theme park, which turned 50 that year.  Later, when Disney bought back its retail stores, he created fresh store prototypes and in just 18 months opened 28 new stores in the U.S. and Europe. In January, Davis was promoted to senior show producer for Disney Imagineering, the theme parks and resorts’ creative arm, charged with assembling creative teams for new development at the Disneyland Resort properties in Anaheim. “I guess I’ve made myself valuable to the organization,” he said of his Disney career. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not all happy-happy. There’s a lot of work, a lot of responsibility.”

Davis has always managed to balance his work responsibilities with fun-filled and lucrative side jobs.  For example, he created props and worked as an assistant art director for TV ads and sit-coms, furnishing his downtown L.A. loft with their cast offs – kitchen cabinets from the set of the comedy “One Day at a Time,” a table from a Whirlpool ad and carpet from a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercial.

In the mid-80s, he was commissioned to create a series of ornate boxes for the King of Saudi Arabia and others involved in a multi-million-dollar mosque-rebuilding project. He left Disney for five years, started his own business and hired six part-time workers to complete the work.

And he created a 17-foot-tall steel and copper sculpture weighing just over a ton that stands on the plaza outside a new building on Burbank Boulevard in downtown Burbank.

Davis, who lives with his wife, Maureen, just north of downtown Los Angeles, still enjoys creating sculptures. His latest work, titled “The Jawless Series,” features fantastical, three-dimensional creatures comprised of bones, machined parts and other materials he’s collected over the years.

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Spring 2011)