WILLIAM E. PRESTON 1930-2015 On April 26th, 2015, at the dimming of a New Mexican spring day, William E. Preston, 84, spent his last hours with his wife and a dear friend. Albinoni's "Adagio" played as he slept. The Essential Rumi, among other Eastern spiritual texts, and a stack of parting words from art collectors, students, and loved ones lay on his bedside table. Only months after he grew too weak for his brushes, William, a consummate artist, flew toward a secret sky. William had dedicated his life to art-his childhood passion and anchor. As an artist, he connected with the deep and complex nature of his feminine self, and expressed it fully in his paintings.
William was born on May 13, 1930, in Cleveland, Ohio to parents William Ensign Preston and Virginia (Jensen) Preston. He never felt quite settled: not in his childhood years in Evanston, Illinois; not at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied briefly; and not as a Flight Chief in the Air Force during the Korean War. William's restlessness led him to California, where he made his first Oriental ink and brush works, served as a copy boy, and photographed the night beat for the Los Angeles Times. He later moved to Mexico City, where he became an aficionado practico, and peddled pen and ink drawings of the sport. In 1956, he moved to New York City, where he illustrated books and book jackets, including Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King. Painting in watercolor & oils, he sold his work at shows in Greenwich Village and from a friend's brownstone stoop. During his time in New York City, William married a Lebanese woman.
In 1960, his only son, Stuart William Preston, was born. William had moved to southern Maine, where he became a valued member of the Ogunquit Artists' Colony. Recognition of William's talent grew during those years. In 1963, he won First Prize for Watercolor at the Washington Square Sidewalk Show in New York City. The National Academy of Design of New York City awarded him the Obrig Prize in 1967. That same year, Allied Artists of America awarded him the Gold Medal of Honor for Watercolor at the National Academy. He sold his elegant watercolors to a growing number of art collectors through Shore Gallery in Boston, among other East coast galleries, and from his lobster shack gallery in Perkins Cove, Maine. His works were acquired by the Ogunquit Museum of Art, the Rockefeller Museum, and the La Jolla Museum of Art.
When his first marriage ended suddenly and painfully, William's restlessness returned. He continued to work prolifically, painting seascapes and landscapes en plein air, traveling between Maine, North Carolina, and Key West. He began his study and practice of classical guitar, a passion that grew equal to painting and spanned his lifetime. He found both self-expression and relief through his practice. In 1982, William drove to Texas for a one-man show. His departure from Maine became permanent when he met and married a locally-renowned artist in Houston, Marianne (Cooper) Hornbuckle. A year later, the couple moved to the Pojoaque Valley north of Santa Fe; William was drawn to the peculiar landscape of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona that she so loved. In his new home, William painted within the thick adobe walls of his tiny studio. Years of painting en plein air, from Maine to Mexico, distilled to form his vision of the stunning light and color of southwestern landscape. By 1985, he was named a "New Discovery Artist" at the Santa Fe Festival of the Arts. William was soon recognized as one of the noted Southwestern landscape painters, and was profiled in several books and magazine articles. After twenty years in his New Mexican home, with his works in corporate collections on both coasts, William once again grew restless. This journey, however, did not call for highways or strange towns. In this journey inward, William immersed himself in the study of Eastern spiritual writers, where he found his new artistic territory: the merging of his unique southwestern voice and the sumi-e painting tradition. His first sumi-e solo exhibition was fittingly entitled "Light that casts no shadow," marking the last decade of his long career. He was invited as a member of the International Chinese Calligraphy & Painting Society (ICCPS) in 2010. He instituted a sumi-e dojo, attracting both western and eastern international students to his home studio for multi-day intensives. In 2012, in a member exhibition of the ICCPS, William's entry was "Special Chosen". In 2014, his painting Longing for Spring won Best of Show at the Sumi Society of America's Annual Show, juried by the well-known Chinese painter Charles Chang-Han Liu. William received this news as his struggle with end-stage renal failure intensified. When his brushes and guitar began to gather dust after more than sixty-five years of dedicated painting and practicing, William once again grew restless. He withdrew from dialysis in early April 2015. His heart and soul embraced the wide roadway, and led him to the ultimate, unknown territory. "This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet".-Rumi.
William is survived by his wife, Marianne; his son, Stuart Preston; his stepchildren, Lea Clifton (husband Paul) and Stephen Hornbuckle; his step grandchildren Lauren, Catherine, Avery, Matthew, and Richard; and his beloved step-nephew John Cooper (wife Debra), and their children, Soren and Maisy. A celebration of his life will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 14th, 2015, at his home in Santa Fe. Donations in his memory can be made to the Esperanza Shelter of Santa Fe or to the Los Alamos Visiting Nurse Service.