"Local Animators" - Celebrating Josh Meador and Uncle Bunky

The following article was written by Jan Swoope and appeared in the Commercial Dispatch on July 1, 2017. 

Columbus' Josh Meador impacted the world of animation and special effects from the late 1930s through the 1950s with work on iconic films such as "Cinderella," "Bambi," "Fantasia," "Peter Pan" and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The late Robert "Uncle Bunky" Williams' work was closer to home, but also, in its way, influenced generations of regional youth. Artwork by both men will be showcased at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center through July. A free public reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the arts center at 501 Main St. opens the month-long exhibit. 


Bringing classics to life 


Most of the displayed work by Meador (1911-1965) will be on loan from Rufus Ward of Columbus. It includes nine oil paintings and about 30 other pieces of Meador's and other early Disney animators' production drawings and photographs.  


Meador's father and Ward's grandfather were good friends, explained Ward who has researched the animator's career. According to Columbus-Lowndes Public Library archives, the Meadors moved from Greenwood to Columbus when Josh was 7 and his father was auditor for the Columbus and Greenville Railroad. After graduating from S.D. Lee High in 1930, Josh went on to art school before joining the Disney Studio in 1936.  


"Special effects people consider him one of the five greatest effects artists of all time," said Ward. "The effects he created went on to be used in everything from 'Star Trek' to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' What he did was incredibly far-reaching and ahead of its time."  


Meador was a fine artist in his own right, too, with about 50 works in Walt Disney's personal collections. Shortly before Meador's death, he completed a painting for Lyndon B. Johnson that now hangs in Johnson's presidential library in Austin, Texas, Ward said. A similar canvas will be in the Columbus exhibit. 


"Josh Meador loved coming back to Columbus and going out to Bob's Place and meeting up with all his old friends from high school," Ward said. "He liked doing that almost every summer." Meador and his wife are both buried in Columbus at Friendship Cemetery. 


Local hero 


The late "Uncle Bunky" Williams' work as cartoonist, illustrator, TV personality, lawman and history buff is well-known in the Golden Triangle and beyond. From 1958 to 1976, he delighted children by drawing "crazy animals" on his television show, "Fun Time with Uncle Bunky." Even when he became a Lowndes County Sheriff's Department officer, he continued connecting with people, especially when working with abused and neglected children.  


While best known for his zany critters, Williams' works in this exhibit, on loan from Ward and others, focus mostly on more historical themes. Some he created for Ward's regular columns in The Dispatch, and for a proposed book Ward and Williams hoped to complete about the ill-fated steamboat, the Eliza Battle. Destroyed by fire in Alabama in 1858, the boat's loss was the greatest maritime disaster in Tombigbee River history. An estimated 33 people were killed. The flames sent the doomed vessel into Southern folklore as a ghost ship.  


"We were hoping to do something like a children's ghost story book on the Eliza Battle," said Ward. The project was never finished. 


Ward will make a brief talk during the exhibit.  


Draw your own 


Those at Thursday's reception are invited to draw a cartoon or animations for display in the gallery's Artist Alley. 


Gallery coordinator Aislinn Noltie said, "We wanted to have a community aspect to the exhibit. We're hoping everyone will come out, get inspired and draw their own." Paper and drawing supplies will be available, or bring your own, if preferred. 

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