The Wonderful World Before Disney is an exhibition inspired by the collection of fairy-tale themed postcards from Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. As one of the most prolific scholars of folk and fairy tales, he has been influential in highlighting their social and political role in society. His collection of postcards from all over the world grew over decades of roaming flea markets and antiquarian stalls.
This exhibition features a selection of these fairy-tale postcards spanning from the 1890s to the 1930s, a period when millions of postcards of all kinds were sold every year in Europe and North America. At the time, the picture postcard was the fastest and cheapest mode of informal communication between friends and family members. The fairy-tale postcards, Jack Zipes has observed, spread like “memes,” traveling from senders to receivers, multiplying the visual interpretations of the tales.
The golden age of postcards ended in the 1930s with the rise of fascism in Europe and World War II. This decline coincided with the release of Walt Disney’s first feature film in 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Ever since, The Walt Disney Company has produced the predominant images of fairy tales through an ongoing tradition of movie adaptations. Yet wonder tales were vastly popular in visual culture and communications long before Disney’s mass marketing. With a focus on the six most-depicted tales, the postcards displayed in this exhibition present this previous, little-known, and more diverse fairy-tale imagery.