What is it?
Truman Tennis Lowe (Black River Falls, Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin 1944–2019 Madison)
120 x 60 x 60 in.
Gifted 2013, The Art Ball Fund
About the Work
Sculptor and installation artist Truman Lowe is regarded as one of the leading contemporary artists of his generation. Born in Black River Falls on the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin reservation, Lowe learned to work with wood by observing his parents make split-ash baskets that they sold at roadside stands to tourists visiting the Wisconsin Dells. In the summer months, Lowe worked at the Wisconsin Dells, “playing Indian” in evening performances for tourists or dressed in full regalia as a tour boat guide. These experiences in popular “stereotyping” helped Lowe discover an authentic voice and an appreciation for natural materials that are rooted in the back-to-the land movement of the 1970s and in his Native ancestry and culture.
Thunder is a deceptively simple sculpture featuring a suspended grid of willow saplings. It serves as a visual metaphor for a thunderstorm in full force, the branches connoting pelting rain and jagged streaks of lightning. Lowe admired the natural and spiritual forces of water and frequently made it the subject of his work, from still and rippling to rushing and torrential. Many of his constructions are created from sanded willow saplings, which he collected from his canoe along riverbanks and in local woodlands. With a minimalist sensibility that reflects the work of Eva Hesse, Lowe used materials masterfully and intuitively to suggest rather than define. In Thunder, the title completes the work by imagining what is implicit but neither seen nor heard.
He was professor of Native American studies and sculpture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for almost three decades, before becoming the founding curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, a position he held from 2000 to 2008.