Truman Lowe is a contemporary sculptor working primarily in wood that he often scavenges from the landscape. This segment is from the KET documentary From the Shadows of the River, which chronicles Lowe’s visit to Wickliffe Mounds, the site of a Mississippian village, and his creation of a sculpture inspired by and honoring the rich heritage of the place. Lowe explains how his heritage influences his work, from the themes he explores to the materials he chooses.
This resource is part of the Native American Culture collection.
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Truman Lowe, a Winnebago/Ho-Chunk, was born and raised in a predominantly Native American community near Black River Falls in west central Wisconsin. The name Ho-Chunk, the tribe’s preference, means “big voice” or “mother voice.” Although Lowe grew up around people who made crafts for daily use, he did not come to make his own art until later in his academic career. He earned his master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he now teaches sculpture in the art department. He was awarded a 1994-95 fellowship in sculpture from the National Endowment for the Arts and has exhibited across the country and abroad. He also served as the curator of contemporary art for the Smithsonian Institution until 2008.
Art journalist Victor Cassidy wrote this about Truman Lowe: “When Truman Lowe makes art, he listens to nature and converses with his Winnebago Indian ancestors. These people have hunted and farmed in the area now called Wisconsin for about 1,300 years. They used native materials to make shelters, weapons, and vessels. Lowe, a constructor of sculptures, a carver and a draftsman, reinterprets this culture for our time.
“Unlike many Indian artists, Lowe grew up in his geographical and cultural homeland—and never became alienated. He was born during 1944 in Winnebago Mission, a small, predominantly Winnebago town near Black River Falls, Wis. English is his second language, and he says he’s still learning it.
“The large, close Lowe family lived modestly on 40 acres of land next to the Black River. Like other youths in his town, Lowe learned traditional crafts from his parents. Making art was a normal activity to him, and he was surprised to discover years later that many people see art and life as separate things.
“An artist long before he knew it, Lowe spent his spare hours in the art room during high school. In college, he took numerous studio courses, but did not declare himself an art major until his mother prodded him to make a decision. After graduation, he taught art in the public schools, but this did not satisfy so he took graduate courses in sculpture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There he found excellent teachers and learned about art ‘the way I really wanted to,’ he says. After experimenting with many styles and mediums, he began to develop a point of view.
“When Lowe hung his Master of Fine Arts show in 1973, he saw ‘a thread’ running through all the work he had done. ‘I discovered I was really woodland Indian,’ he states. I was so familiar with trees and water and bluffs that it was important for me to come back [to them in my work].’ Since that time, Lowe has been a professor of art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returns often to Winnebago Mission for visits and powwows—a trip of about 100 miles.”
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