University of Wisconsin La Crosse dedicates building to Ho-Chunk artist Truman Lowe

By Ardith Van Riper

     On Oct. 3, the University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UWL) dedicated its Center for the Arts building to the late Truman T. Lowe (Wakajahukga).  Lowe is the first person of color with a UWL building named in their honor.  He is a world-renowned sculptor and installation artist, educator, and art curator.

     His works were exhibited in venues throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America, and New Zealand.  His Bird Effigy was shown in a yearlong exhibition of 20th-century works at the White House Sculpture Garden in 1998.  He was the curator of contemporary art for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian from 2000-2008.  He was a professor at UW Madison, chaired the art department, and served as coordinator of the Native American Studies program during his 35-year career there.

     UWL Chancellor Joe Gow was the master of ceremonies.  The Chancellor remarked, “It’s a historic day at our university as we prepare to rename the Center for the Arts after one of the most accomplished alumni in the University’s 113 year history, Truman T. Lowe.”

     The UWL is one of the 13 four-year institutions in the University of Wisconsin System.

     Lowe earned his undergraduate degree from UWL in 1969.  He received a Master of Fine Arts degree at UW Madison in 1973.  He received Distinguished Alumni Awards from UWL and UW Madison and was granted Emeritus Status upon retirement from the University in 2010.

     The Ho-Chunk Nation Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek began the event with a blessing. 

     Lowe was born at the Mission near Black River Falls to Mabel Davis and Martin Lowe on Jan. 1, 1944.  His works are deeply rooted in his Ho-Chunk heritage.  Ho-Chunk was his first language.

     Andy Thundercloud and the Thundercloud Singers provided welcome and honor songs.

     Author of the book “Woodland Reflections: The Art of Truman Lowe” and Beloit College professor emerita Jo Ortel spoke next.  She offered reminiscences and conversations she had with Lowe.  She declared, “Renaming the Fine Arts Center to honor a contemporary Ho-Chunk artist is very timely, and it most certainly marks a significant milestone.”

     Truman Lowe married Nancy Knabe, whom he had met when working in the Dells in 1966.  Their daughter, Tonia announced the creation of a new Truman T. Lowe Scholarship for Native American Students in Lowe’s honor.  She dubbed her father the Ultimate Education Encourager because he worked tirelessly to recruit and support underrepresented students.

     Tonia went on to say, “Representation matters! So if you’re a Native student coming onto campus and you see that the Center for the Arts is named after a Ho-Chunk artist and educator, I think the university is basically saying, 'we see you and we believe in you.' And that inspiration, that’s huge for Native students.”

     Ho-Chunk Nation member and UWL Alumni Association Board Member Ryan John Crain, Sr. remarked on Lowe’s family, the importance of post-secondary education, and Ho-Chunk Nation representation.

     Truman Lowe’s family and the Chancellor revealed the temporary exterior letters to guests.  The ceremony concluded with a reception inside the building.  A wall featured Truman Lowe’s work and also a permanent dedication display.

     The Truman T. Lowe Center for the Arts provides a place of learning for students studying Art, Music, Theatre, and Dance.