Media File
May Wilson Watkins Preston
Date: American illustrator, 1873–1949
Biography: May Wilson Watkins (Preston) (1873-1949) was born in New York City to John J. and Ann Taylor Wilson. At age 16 she was one of the founders of the Women's Art Club, which sought equality for women in the arts. She studied art and music at Oberlin College. From 1892 to 1897, she was enrolled in the Art Students League in New York, where she was a student of Robert Henri, John Twachtman, and William Merritt Chase.

In 1898, she married Thomas Watkins, and they traveled to Paris where she studied with James Whistler. Watkins died in 1900, and May then lived in New York with fellow artists Edith Dimock and Lou Seyme. Their apartment in the Sherwood Studios on 57th Street was in the same building where Robert Henri and his wife lived. Gatherings and discussions among the building's residents contributed to the formation of the Ashcan School and of the Society of Illustrators, of which May was the first and only woman member for years. (In 1941, she was elected an honorary life member, the first woman to receive that honor.) During this period, Preston sold her first illustration to Harper's Bazaar.

In 1903, she married James Preston, a painter, and from then on used the personal and professional name of May Wilson Preston. The couple traveled regularly to France, often with Edith and William Glackens, and there May Preston painted impressionist landscapes of the countryside. However, her strength remained with illustration, which she did for writers including Ring Lardner, Mary Roberts Rinehart, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Wilson Preston exhibited widely at organizations such as the Pennsylvania Academy, Art Institute of Chicago, National Academy of Design, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco.

In 1933, Preston retired from illustration. In 1935, she and her husband retired to Easthampton, where she died in 1949.

Stephanie Strass, "American Women Artists"