Above: Photographer David Vernon with artist Preston Jackson amidst Jackson's Bronzeville to Harlem: An American Story, now on display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum
Interviewing our Local Legends is one of the highlights of my year, and 2021 was no different. After the interview comes the dry work of transcription (still tedious, if now augmented by AI software), then the slicing and dicing of some 15,000 to 20,000 words down to a linear conversation of 3,500 or so. What is left on the “cutting-room floor” is often as noteworthy as what makes it to print. That was certainly the case with artist Preston Jackson.
We talked for over two hours, but I easily could have spent the entire day in his studio. Our interview is full of fascinating moments that shaped his life’s journey—and we barely touched upon his work! From paintings and sculptures to monumental installations, there is a story behind every piece. And Jackson is not only prolific, but a masterful and inimitable storyteller. Read his Local Legends interview here.
From our vantage point in central Illinois, it’s easy to take Jackson’s talents for granted. His works dot our riverfront, hug the walls of the Civic Center, and loom large over the Warehouse District—and that’s just in Peoria! He is currently working on a major commission to be placed in front of the Civil Courts Building in downtown St. Louis. The Freedom Suits Memorial will be a powerful, 14-foot tall, bronze sculpture honoring hundreds of slave plaintiffs who sued for their freedom in St. Louis courts prior to the Civil War. According to Jackson, it may be his strongest work yet.
“The Freedom Suits Memorial has given me the opportunity to address history that was not taught in our schools about people who bravely took control of their destinies and those who helped them in their endeavors,” he explains. “The purpose of the artist is to speak the truth, and this is a way for me to express the history that has been denied to us.”
We are incredibly fortunate that one of the great artists of our time calls Peoria home. That’s something we should never take for granted. PS —Jonathan Wright, Editor in Chief