Lake Norman & Mooresville

Distinctive work: From Davidson to Disney

Twenty years ago, a young family took a vacation on a fledgling Disney Cruise ship. They didn't have to look far to be reminded of home. Much of the retro-style artwork that surrounded them, from the door hangers to the menu covers to cards placed on guests' pillows, was done by their neighbor back in Davidson, David Wilgus.

Wilgus has spent the last two decades quietly working from his home studio here in town. You may not recognize his face, but there's a good chance you've seen his work.

After studying advertising design, Wilgus moved around the country working in retail art and creative director positions. That came to an end after they moved to Davidson.

"The look on my wife's face when we drove into Davidson. ... I knew this was where we needed to be," he said. When faced with moving his young family elsewhere for another corporate job, Wilgus decided to stay and freelance instead.

After showing his work to different agencies in Charlotte, Wilgus - who counts artists such as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish as inspirations - began getting work and soon developed a reputation. Big-name clients such as Delta Airlines, Sony and Nintendo followed.

His favorite though, was Disney. "I grew up in the Mickey Mouse era. I just couldn't believe I was getting paid to draw these characters I loved."

Wilgus' illustrations are seen in children's books as well, including Jane Yolen's young-adult series "Here They Be." He's also drawn renderings of homes for owners and architects. In recent years, he has spent much of his time and talent creating portraits of children. Combining photography and colored pencil to create classic portraits is a passion for Wilgus.

He began the work when his now-grown children were young. He feels that his time working with photographers definitely helped him develop as a portrait artist.

The process begins with a photography session of close-up pictures, and then Wilgus uses the best shots of different features to create the portrait.

"After spending so many years doing advertising, I realize that someone will see an ad for a week or two, then it's gone," said Wilgus. "But this is something that lasts forever."

Most of Wilgus' work is done from his home, the same one he's lived in for more than two decades. Though his children are now grown, he has fond memories of them growing up here, and is glad he made the choice to stay.

"Davidson is just a great place to live," he said.