Astrid Preston: An Artist's Contribution to Science

There is much evidence that exposure to art and nature can reduce stress and improve academic performance. Thanks to a generous gift from artist and alumna Astrid Preston ’67, students at the UCLA Science and Engineering libraries are experiencing this firsthand. Preston donated 32 of her nature-inspired paintings to grace the walls of the Science and Engineering Library in Boelter Hall and the Science and Engineering-Geology Library in the Geology building.

“Students are really responding to the art,” said director of science libraries Rikke Ogawa. “The Science and Engineering Library is a popular—and busy— place to study and work collaboratively. Astrid Preston’s paintings add a sense of beauty and inspiration to the space.”

Preston’s relationship with the UCLA Library dates to her student days at UCLA. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1967 and worked in Powell Library for four years. Her husband, Howard, received both his bachelor’s and PhD in physics from UCLA.

Preston’s art has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States and Asia, including solo shows at the Laguna Art Museum and a recent survey show at the Bakersfield Museum of Art. Her work is held in numerous museum collections, such as the Long Beach Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum.

Preston says that she “finds inspiration everywhere,” from the flora and fauna of Santa Monica, where she lives and works, to nature scenes of Japan, where the Prestons often travel to visit their son, Max. “I try to capture the sense of a place, of its beauty, and the feeling it evokes in me,” Preston said. “I’m delighted that the students can feel that, too, and that it adds to their library experience.” 

The Science and Engineering Library is the heart of research and learning in the sciences at UCLA, supporting engineering, physical, life, and applied sciences. One alumnus of the sciences, Library benefactor Norman Powell (Physics ’59), made a donation to cover the costs of installing Preston’s art in the libraries where he’d spent time as a student. “[UCLA curator of public art] Vicki Steele and I had been discussing art at UCLA, and I was intrigued with her idea of bringing Astrid’s work to the libraries,” he said. “UCLA’s libraries are world-class, and these spaces reflect that.”