Preston Jackson is a man who needs no introduction to Peorians. Guitarist, sculptor, painter, teacher, martial artist, “arts warrior”—his resume runs for miles—he’s one of the area’s finest and most acclaimed creative minds. Born in Decatur, Jackson taught at Millikin and Western Illinois Universities, landing in Peoria in 1974. A professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1989, he splits his time between the Windy City and his adopted hometown of Peoria.
Jackson’s vision for a thriving arts community along Peoria’s riverfront led to the establishment of the 14,000-square-foot Contemporary Art Center on Water Street in the mid-nineties, where it remains a hotbed of artistic activity.
The recipient of many honors and awards, including the prestigious Lincoln Academy award and a regional Emmy for a television special on his sculpture series Julieanne’s Garden, Jackson is typically modest about his achievements. Like a Zen master, he invokes the kind of reverence and devotion in his students and colleagues that can only be achieved by not trying for it. His body of work confronts social issues boldly and directly, anchored by “a common thread that runs through all of humanity.” Jackson has two daughters, Alice and Natalie, and a grandson, Blake. He lives with his wife, Melba, in Dunlap.
1 Persons who’ve had the greatest impact on my life: Justeen Bleeks, my high school art teacher; my wife’s grandfather, Arthur Covington; and my mother, Shirley Jackson.
2 Favorite smell: My wife.
3 What is your most treasured possession? My motor scooter, a Honda 70 from the Vietnam days.
4 Secret ambition: To be a tap dancer and dance FAST…so fast that my shoes would smoke! I want to be a professional tap dancer.
5 Proudest moment/achievement: When I received the Lincoln Academy award.
6 My life won’t be complete until I… can do nothing but make art and watch my grandchildren develop into wonderful, intelligent citizens.
7 Which historical figure do you most identify with? Frederick Douglass.
8 Favorite meal: New England clam chowder.
9 Biggest regret: The fact that I didn’t learn to read music well—I didn’t stick with it all the way. I was a little lazy in that area.
10 I love Peoria because… Peoria has some fine ladies. And a river runs through it. It has a history that we have not yet thoroughly exposed—we haven’t even scraped the surface. I have a great interest in Peoria history. a&s