Judith Lowry

Article excerpt


JUDITH LOWRY'S FATHER, LEONARD, WaS One of the most decorated Native American soldiers of World War II. He was also a descendant of such Native tribes as the Maidu and Pit River (as well as of Irish ancestors) and an awesome storyteller who kept his daughter up at night with accounts of the origins of his Native forebears-stories in which he became the weasel, the owl, and the wolf. A generation later, she grew up to be the family's story-bearer, telling the tales to her children and memorializing them in her paintings.

In WEH-POM AND THE STAR SISTERS, recently exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, Lowry, who is 57 and lives in Nevada City, CA, introduced the scoundrel coyote Weh-Pom, who lusts for five beautiful celestial siblings. The sisters encircle him like a constellation, toting baskets and beams of white starlight.

Creation myths, with their lessons about respect, courage, and redemption, are universal to all cultures. "Right now the world is so divided," Lowry contends. "The uniting principles of the stories are so important in helping us make connections."

Since she began painting more than a quartercentury ago, such tales have been a mainstay of her work. But she has also sounded off, starkly but deliciously, about the status of women, Indian gaming, and mainstream American culture in paintings such as JINGLE, JINGLE. The 1997 acrylic on canvas, featured in the traveling exhibition Who Stole the Teepee?, portrays an Indian princess before a glorified slot machine, spewing gold coins from her loins. Earlier, Lowry made a send-up of a medieval religious painting by surrounding the pop singer Madonna with such "false saints" as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

OF THE ii CHILDREN IN HIS FAMILY, Leonard Lowry was the closest to his grandmother. He'd spend days helping her, threading her beading needles and hauling water from the spring, while she recounted stories of the Maidu and Pit River people of California. Soon after he enlisted in the Army, he met his wife, an Aussie with movie-star looks, at a USO dance in Sydney. For more than three years, the pair exchanged letters until she sailed halfway around the world to be with him.

Judith and her brother were also destined to be globetrotters, following their dad to posts in Germany, Japan, Australia, and towns throughout the United States. …