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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 19  | March 5, 2021

Take Five: Meet Ray Kinman, former Newport Beach resident and Disney woodcarver


Disneyland has been closed since March, but in the past week or two, there have been news stories discussing when the park could reopen, possibly later this spring or summer depending on vaccine rates and state guidelines. But all the chatter had me thinking about the Big D for the first time in months, and it made me think of Ray Kinman, a friend I made online who briefly lived in Newport Beach in the 1970s and who worked for years as a Disney artist. I caught up with Ray to ask about his Disney days and his 43-year career as a woodcarver.

Take Five Ray Kinman

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Photos courtesy of Ray Kinman

Ray Kinman

Q: I’ve loved reading your stories on the Facebook group about growing up in Newport before it was the OC, and I’ve been fascinated by your Disney stories. Can you share your story about how you got started as a Disney artist?

A: There is a picture of Indiana Jones Adventure on my website for this answer, and this was the first woodcarving I ever did for Disney. How’d that happen? When my kids were very young, we did what many parents often do: We took our children to Disneyland for an adventure. I had been carving professionally for a number of years already, so I was looking around and thinking, “You know, I think that I can probably do stuff like this,” and I decided that I would look into it. At the time, I was a self-employed artist and sole provider for a young family. I went through many, many years of mind-numbing struggles before anything ever happened. It wasn’t easy. I did a little detective work and found the Disney Imagineering address, but I didn’t have any names, so I just sent it to the graphic design department. I tried submitting my work to Disney many, many times. Over and over again. No reply, ever, crickets and tumbleweeds. After doing that for some period of time, I just figured it wasn’t going to happen, and I stopped trying. Incidentally, that’s a big mistake. Your greatest asset isn’t your education or your connections or how smart you are or even the quality of your work. Your greatest asset in any endeavor is your persistence. I was young at the time, and it took me awhile to learn that. Then one day, out of the blue, I got a phone call from the senior graphic designer at Disney Imagineering. He just happened to wander into a restaurant where I had done some work and got my number from the manager. Yep, that’s what it came down to: a lucky break. Dumb luck.

He asked me to submit some more examples of my work so that he could take a look at them. I did that. A week or so later, he called me back and told me that they had a project they’d like me to take a look at and asked if I could come in and present my portfolio to the Imagineers. Of course, I said yes. When I arrived there, I was escorted back into a labyrinth of meeting rooms to a room where there were a dozen or so Imagineers gathered around a large board room meeting table. I was really nervous. There I was, sitting at the table with some of the best artists and creative minds in the world. I was extremely intimidated, to say the least. It’s funny to think about now, but at the time, I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind which sounded something like, “Oh jeez...I hope nobody finds out that I don’t know what I’m doing!” I brought some pieces with me and circulated photos around the table. They interviewed me and asked some very pointed and direct questions. I guess I did okay because somebody brought some rolled up blueprints and tossed them in front of me telling me that they had something they wanted me to take a look at. I figured that they would give me some obscure little project...something to test me on, right? I unrolled the blueprints and swallowed hard when I realized what it was. They were starting me at the very top. It was the Indiana Jones Adventure project. Gulp. Okay. We talked about some technical details and worked on design snags for a while. At one point I stopped and said, “Look you guys...I really want this job!” The art director looked up at me and a little smile settled on his face, then he said, “Yeah, we can tell!” I got the gig. Long story short, the carve went very well, and they were pleased with the result. It opened up a relationship which lasted many years and was certainly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done professionally.

Here’s the deal. At the time, I didn’t realize what working with Disney would mean for my career. I thought it was interesting work and the money was good. That’s about all of the thought I had put into it. It was this experience which would eventually allow me to do what I do for all these years: To work with wonderful people and to do what I can to bring a little bit of good into the world. There’s an old saying: “You can’t retire until you’ve replaced yourself.” After 43 years, I still carve professionally but also realize that it’s time for passing the torch, so I’m teaching quite a bit these days.

Take Five Minnie and Mickey

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Minnie and Mickey Mouse wood carvings epitomize the magic of Disney

Q: Do you ever go visit your pieces in Disney?

A: Two years ago, I took my kids and grandkids to Disneyland for an adventure. I counted 14 pieces which are still there today. Some I had forgotten about.

Q: Which pieces are your favorites?

A: The Country Bear Playhouse was a good one. That attraction is no longer there. It was replaced by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and I did that sign also. But last year, that sign sold at auction for $85,000 to a collector. I carved that sign with one hand. I was doing some chainsaw sculptures – canoes actually – for the Pocahontas store, and I had an accident. Lost one of my fingers on my left hand, which is a devastating injury for a musician. After eight hours of surgery, they were able to save the finger and reattach it, but it was in a cast for a very long time. The Country Bear Playhouse job was waiting, and it had to get done. I asked a couple of woodcarver friends to help. They roughed it out for me, and I finished it with only my right hand because my left hand was in a cast. Came out great; I don’t know how I did that. I’m not sure that I could do that today.

Take Five Indiana

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Perhaps an homage to Indiana Jones

Q: I understand that you teach, including current Imagineers, and that you accept commissions and have made a television appearance. How do you keep busy, and do you consider yourself retired?

A: How do I keep busy? I play music professionally. I love to cook. I love to walk. I teach. I do commissions, mostly for collectors. It’s a full life. While it’s true I am still working, I consider myself retired. I’m doing exactly what I want, when I want and if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing. I make people happy for a living. Why would I ever change that?

Q: What advice do you have for a young artist who wants to forge a career, or specifically a Disney career?

A: Your greatest asset isn’t your education or your connections or how smart you are or even the quality of your work. Your greatest asset in any endeavor is your persistence. Always do your best work. You never know who is going to see it.

Editor’s note: For more photos and information, visit Kinman’s website at


Amy Senk is a longtime resident of Corona del Mar and a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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