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Essay: Personal notes on my friend Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk) 1944-2019

Renowned contemporary Native artist Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk) died March 30. A sculpture artist and art professor at the University of Wisconsin, he was an Eiteljorg Fellow in 1999.


By Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art

I will miss my friend Truman Lowe. He added a great amount of good to the world, and to my life. And although I am sad, mostly, I am grateful for his friendship.  We had a wonderful friendship and I spent quite a bit of time in “awe” of his genius in art and his great advice. He however, was not as impressed with himself. Which was part of his charm!

For example:

He had a stunning exhibition in Kentucky. I walked in and everything was floating! Nothing was touching the ground! Lucy Lippard, an important art critic, was there. The entire event was inspiring. When I finally saw Truman I said, “Truman those bundles hanging from the air are brilliant! How did you come up with that idea?” Truman said, “I don’t like bases.”

My son, Abe, describes Truman as the most laconic person he has ever known. I agree. Never at a loss for a reply, however, he was always succinct and usually incredibly insightful and humorous.

Abe and I went to Madison, Wisconsin, to enjoy a field trip with some of Truman’s graduate students. It was a canoe trip. Abe with Truman and me, and another friend in a separate canoe. We were ahead of them but as they rounded the bend, Truman was in the back of the canoe enjoying a cold one and Abe was in the front paddling. Abe shouted to me, “Mom! This is just like canoeing with you!” Truman always said, “The secret is, the canoe does all the work.”

Truman was the first one-person exhibition I put together for the Eiteljorg. It was called Haga, which means “third son” in Ho-Chunk. It was a beautiful show. In preparation, I took many different staff members to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit his studio, to get to know him and to prepare for the exhibition. That is when I had the privilege of getting to know his family. Something I treasure.

In preparation for the catalog, we had to do photography, of course. I usually took people or one of my dogs when visiting. Because it would take a few days, I took Abe. He has always been incredibly proud that he accidently put his foot through Truman’s installation Red Banks during its photography. I was mortified, Truman thought it was hilarious and Abe grew to think as a point of pride, which Truman thought was hilarious too! I don’t think he ever repaired it.

Red Banks

During the installation of the exhibition, Truman came to the Eiteljorg for a week to strip willow with friends, guides, and staff. We then mounted an outdoor installation, Woodland Maize, on the front lawn.

Truman Lowe mounting the installation “Woodland Maize” on the Eiteljorg grounds.

I will never forget one of my friend’s elderly mother helped us strip willow. Can you see it coming? When he signed her catalog he wrote, “She was a great stripper.” Then he laughed that deep belly laugh of his. I will never forget that laugh or the sound of Truman saying, “Hey Jenn!” I know he is floating around in a canoe somewhere.


Jennifer Complo McNutt is curator of contemporary art and curated Truman Lowe’s art works in several Eiteljorg Museum exhibitions. She wrote this essay for the Eiteljorg blog. Portrait of Truman Lowe is courtesy of the artist’s family.