“This feels like recognition for all the work he did”: Unveiling the Truman T. Lowe Center for the Arts


Photo taken by Jessica Fitzgerald.

Jessica Fitzgerald, Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Built-in 1973, the Center for the Arts is home to the University of Wisconsin La Crosse visual and performing arts students. This building has it all, from classrooms, studios, offices, practice rooms, and theater facilities. It houses Annett Recital Hall, Toland Theatre, the University Art Gallery, and various rehearsal spaces for the UWL musical ensembles. On Oct. 3, 2022, the Center for the Arts was renamed the Truman T. Lowe Center for the Arts to honor a UWL alumnus and nationally renowned artist. The Truman T. Lowe Center for the Arts is officially the first building on UWL’s campus to be named after a person of color.

Truman T. Lowe. Image retrieved from uwlax.edu.

UWL Chancellor Joe Gow proposed that the Center for the Arts be named after Lowe last fall, and it was approved Feb. 10 by the UW System Board of Regents. “During his life, Truman Lowe fully embodied the UWL spirit – striving for excellence, honoring one’s culture and heritage, and leaving the world a better place than we found it,” Gow said. “I’m proud to call Truman Lowe an alumnus of our university. I hope seeing his name on the Center for the Arts will inspire future generations to learn about his legacy and work to create their own.”

Prior to his graduation with an art degree from UWL in 1969, Lowe was raised in the Ho-Chunk community near Black River Falls, WI. His ancestry and culture are reflected in his art where he utilized Ho-Chunk themes and styles. His works are known for the use of natural materials that link each piece to Lowe’s culture and the natural world.

Art historian Jo Ortel attended UWL’s building dedication ceremony, and in regard to Lowe and his art she said, “Truman was one of the foremost Native American artists of his generation.” Lowe is known as one of UWL’s most accomplished alumni. His sculptures are known nationally and internationally. Ortel said, “He made an indelible mark on the art world through elegant, minimalist work that referenced his Ho-Chunk heritage and the woodland environment of the upper midwest.”

After graduating from UWL, Lowe taught art at UW-Madison for 35 years and was the chair of the UW-Madison art department for three years. During his time in Madison, Lowe aided and inspired both undergraduate and graduate students in their art education. From 2000-2008, Lowe curated contemporary art for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. Lowe passed away in 2019 at age 75.

Throughout his life of loving art and art education, Lowe never forgot his alma mater. Tonia Lowe, Truman Lowe’s daughter, attended UWL’s building dedication ceremony. She mentioned her father’s love for UWL, saying that her father loved La Crosse, and was always happy to return for presentations later in his career.

“He really loved La Crosse – he loved the campus, the city, and the beauty of the location. And it was really where he discovered art as a career,” said Nancy Lowe, Truman’s wife. “Seeing his name on a building would make him very, very happy and be incredibly meaningful to him.”

To honor Lowe’s dedication to art education and the support he got from family and the Native community, Tonia Lowe announced a new scholarship for Native American students. “Because he struggled as a student and those encouraging words that he received were really what propelled him through college, he really wanted to be able to do that for other people. Especially Native students because he understood what the challenges might be for them in particular,” said Lowe.

“On a personal level, he was an incredibly empathetic person and always knew what to say to support someone at a pivotal moment in their life,” said Lowe. “Professionally, he was part of the second wave of Native artists that really helped change people’s perceptions of what Native art could be. This feels like recognition for all the work he did to open people’s minds and pave the way for the next generation.”