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Montgomery College Student Success Stories

An Illustrious Career
Insights, Fall ’04

Ty WilsonOther than the new sign—School of Art and Design at Montgomery College— the one-story brick building that houses the former Maryland College of Art and Design (MCAD) in a Georgia Avenue hollow just minutes from the Beltway looks the same as it has for years. But the sign tells only part of the story. The consolidation of MCAD, also a two-year institution, with Montgomery College in September represents nearly 80 years of learning and teaching, two impressive traditions that have launched accomplished careers of thousands of grads. Ty Wilson, who graduated from MCAD in the late 1970s, is one whose tale is worth hearing. An illustrator living in New York City, Wilson has been honing his art since the age of six and a kindergarten experience that changed his life. When he passed off a drawing by his brother as his own in kindergarten Wilson took the embarrassment of the lie as motivation, committing himself to learning to draw—and to never lying again.

Over the years, his commitment has never wavered. By the time he graduated, doors across the art world were opening to him. There was the scholarship offer to the prestigious Pratt Institute, the job pitch from Hallmark Cards…. He took the job and moved to Kansas City. But, in 1984, when higher ups discouraged him from aspiring to anything other than a production artist, Wilson left for New York, where he made a huge splash immediately.
Twenty years later Wilson is still causing tidal swells in the world of magazine publishing, fashion art, fine art lithographs, and seriographs—even a line of wedding accoutrements.
He has created theatre posters for Broadway shows, including Hayfever and Staggerlee. His work has graced covers of PLAYBILL and has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and on the sets of television shows like Friends, Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and such films as About Schmidt, In and Out, and Shall We Dance.

Wilson describes his work as being “rooted in realism,” a pulse that he traces back to his MCAD days. “Everyone looked out for you,” he says, “but we were not coddled. We were challenged.”

An artist of tremendous versatility and energy (he continues to teach part time), Wilson, who was born in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Duval High School in Lanham, Md., was the first member of his family to attend college. Once he graduated, the “firsts” kept coming. He was the first MCAD alum to serve on the school’s board of trustees, the first recipient of an MCAD Alumni Award, and the first to have a scholarship named after him. With so many firsts to his credit, it was only fitting that Wilson give the last commencement address at MCAD, which he did last spring. Noting that as a student he took much of his inspiration from fellow MCAD artists, Wilson challenged grads “to dream a bigger dream.” “It was wonderful—and incredibly important— for graduates to see and hear for themselves that there’s life after schooling,” said Don Smith, former MCAD president and current director of the Montgomery College Arts Institute. With MCAD now a part of Montgomery College, that “inspiration” will only grow, as two rich traditions intertwine as one.