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Marvin Lowe: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Jun 15, 2010

Wendy Calman is associate professor and cohead of printmaking at the Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Marvin Lowe (photograph provided by Wendy Calman)

Marvin Lowe, an artist, musician, and professor emeritus at Indiana University, died peacefully on April 28, 2010, in Tucson, Arizona. He was 87 years old.

Lowe was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 19, 1922. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, studying math and physics while cultivating an early love for music, particularly jazz. Joining the Navy during World War II, he played tenor saxophone in Artie Shaw’s navy band, and in the band on the battleship Arkansas. Home from war, Lowe played with big bands led by Raymond Scott, Woody Herman, and Bobby Sherwood. On tour in St. Louis, he met the Watkins Twins, Juel and June, a professional vaudeville act whose signature performance included dancing on point atop a bass drum. Lowe married Juel on April 1, 1949. Music and dance filled their life together. Their daughter Melissa, born in 1955, became a professional ballerina, and their granddaughter Claire is an accomplished dancer in her own right.

Lowe entered the Juilliard School to study musical composition, then received a BA in English literature from Brooklyn College in 1955, spending his free time visiting art museums. He also began to draw. Performing in nightclubs, Lowe became friends with the iconic artist Larry Rivers, who also played sax. Lowe showed him his drawings, and Rivers was encouraging. Tired of the distractions of life as a jazz musician, Lowe applied to the printmaking program at the University of Iowa, where under the direction of Mauricio Lasansky he spent the next four years developing as an artist. Playing jazz to support his family, Lowe also took a job in the Physics Department, reawakening a childhood interest in astronomy and cosmology, elements that would resurface frequently in his work.

Receiving his MFA in 1960, Lowe taught at Berea College in Kentucky and at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. At a workshop in Florence, Italy, he met the artist Rudy Pozzatti, and “the rest is history.” Lowe was hired at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1967, where he and Pozzatti worked together building the IU Printmaking Workshop’s outstanding reputation for teaching and research. Joined by Wendy Calman in 1976, they spent fifteen years creating one of the most successful and highest-ranked printmaking programs in the United States.

Marvin Lowe, Earth, 1995, acrylic and college on paper (artwork © Marvin Lowe; photograph provided by Wendy Calman)

Lowe’s works have been shown in over two hundred national and international exhibitions, and can be found in eighty permanent museum, university, and corporate collections, most notably the British Museum, the Japan Print Association (Tokyo), the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. He has had over fifty solo exhibitions and received more than thirty awards, among them a National Endowment for the Arts Artist’s Fellowship and a Ford Foundation grant.

Retired from teaching in 1991, Lowe created an extensive repertoire of works forging new directions. His mixed-media pieces, which include aspects of collage, painting, and printmaking, some over ten feet wide, incorporated figurative elements, astrological charts, and decorative ritual forms. Ideas about science, politics, history, and music resound throughout this period. Lowe continued to live and work in the studio built for him by his family in Tucson, Arizona, where he settled after his wife Juel died in 2002.

Writing about their friend and colleague, Pozzatti and Calman stated, “His most important contributions are the least tangible. His exciting intellect, his energy, his tenacity, his generosity, and his great sense of humor have given those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him a presence that will remain as an inspiration to us all.”

Lowe is survived by his daughter Melissa Lowe Hancock; son-in-law Jory Hancock; granddaughter Claire Elise Hancock; nieces and nephews Geoffrey, Greg, and Cynthia Cortelyou, and Wedge and Kelly Watkins; and extended family. The legacy of his life lives on through them and the many students whose lives he touched.

Filed under: Obituaries