Truman Lowe (Wakajahukga), 75, of Madison, passed away Saturday, March 30, 2019, at home, surrounded by family.
With his natural creativity and innate sense of humor, Truman always made the most of life, even after he was diagnosed with stage 4 gastric cancer last fall. One of the foremost Native artists of his generation, he will also be remembered as an incredibly generous, eloquent mentor and teacher to many.
Truman was born on Jan. 19, 1944, at the Indian Mission near Black River Falls, the youngest of six children. He grew up poor in material possessions, but rich in family and Ho Chunk traditions. From an early age, he learned basketry, ribbon work, and beading from his parents, and developed a deep appreciation for the natural world. He was especially fascinated with streams and rivers, and the way water moves and reflects light. These crafts, stories, and ways of living learned in his childhood would influence his art for the rest of his life.
Truman graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 1969. After teaching art at Valders High School, he received a Ford Fellowship to pursue his master of fine arts degree at the UW-Madison, graduating in 1973. He has received Distinguished Alumni Awards from both the UW-La Crosse and the UW-Madison, and upon his retirement from the university in 2010, was granted emeritus status.
He spent the first year of his academic career as a visiting lecturer at Emporia State University, 1973-74, returning to the UW-Madison as assistant dean of students and then to a joint position as Native American studies coordinator and assistant professor of art. He became a full professor of art, primarily teaching sculpture, in 1989, where he went on to teach thousands of students over the course of 35 years with the university. He served as art department chair from 1992-1995. As chair of the Chancellor’s Scholarship Committee from 1984-2004, he worked tirelessly to recruit and support underrepresented students interested in pursuing their education at the university.
From 2000-2008, he was curator of contemporary art for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. During his time at the NMAI, he curated numerous exhibits including Native Modernism: The Art of George Morrison and Allan Houser, 2004-2005, Continuum: 12 Artists at the NMAI’s space in New York City, Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian, 2008, and exhibited the work of James Luna and Edgar Heap of Birds at the Venice Biennale in 2005 and 2007.
He received numerous prestigious awards throughout his career, including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1994-95, Eiteljorg Fellow for Native American Fine Art, 1999, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters Fellow, 2005, Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award, 2007 and Hilldale Award, 2009. The significance of his work has been captured in the book “Woodland Reflections: The Art of Truman Lowe” by Jo Ortel, 2003.
Truman’s artwork has been exhibited in solo and group shows around the world, from the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, to the Crow’s Shadow Institute of Art in Oregon to embassies in Bolivia and Cameroon, and many, many places in between. One of the more memorable events of his artistic career occurred in 1997, when he was commissioned to create a piece for a year-long group show of contemporary Native sculptors for the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House. His work can be found in the collections of many institutions, including the Eiteljorg Museum, the Heard Museum, the Portland Art Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the NMAI.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Nancy (Knabe) Lowe; daughter, Tonia Lowe (James Page); grandson, Anders Page; brother, Chloris Lowe; sister, Irene Keenan; and three generations of amazing nieces and nephews, all of whom affectionately call him “Uncle Tru.”
Truman is preceded in death by his mother, Mabel Lowe; his father, Martin Lowe; brothers, Clifford Lowe and Raymond Lowe; sister, Arvina Thayer; and his son, Martin “Kunu” Lowe.
A memorial service celebrating Truman’s life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, May 5, 2019, at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison. We will be collecting photos and stories about Truman, so if you have one you’d like to share, feel free to bring it to the service.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Truman’s honor to, Agrace Hospice Care, agrace.com, which provided exactly the kind of care he needed in the last months of his life with special thanks to Brian and Michele; or the National Museum of the American Indian, americanindian.si.edu, an institution that is committed to sharing the values, traditions and creativity of Native people with the world, to which he also dedicated his life.
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