Art Beat: Saving An Art Treasure

Apr 9, 2020

Untitled and undated acrylic painting by Dwayne Lowder
Credit Nicholas Anderson & John M. Carney

Up in a dark attic on a farm in Virginia, row upon row of paintings were hidden from view. The artist who created them was a retired art professor from Western Michigan University—Dwayne Lowder.

Lowder's colleague and friend, Jack Carney, discovered the treasure and brought it to Indra Lācis, the director of exhibitions at Western’s Richmond Center for Visual Arts.

“We’re thrilled to accept the gift of 40 paintings by Dwayne Lowder,” says Lācis. “I was so thrilled to provide a permanent home for works by a beloved professor at Western and someone who was a beloved artist in Kalamazoo.”

Jack Carney recounts his role in Lowder’s life and retrieving his work.

Dwayne Lowder, circa 1970s
Credit John M. Carney

“I joined the faculty in 1966, the same year Dwayne did. It was the largest hire in the history of the university. The school was at about 16,000 students at the time. It had only been a university for about eight years, so the curriculum was set up for education, and we were given the charge of making it a university. The art department at the time had ten faculty, and in that year they hired ten more.”

Working together to develop an art curriculum, Lowder and Carney became friends and shared studio space. Carney’s focus was on photography.

“As a result, we had wonderful conversations as I got to know him quite well,” Carney says.

When Lowder retired and moved to a farm in Pulaski, Virginia, in 1982, Carney kept in touch and visited him there. Lowder continued to paint and also worked with stained glass, sculpture, woodworking, and photography. Another passion was growing orchids.

When Lowder died in August 2018, much of his property was sold at auction. But more than 300 running feet of paintings remained in the attic of his home. With no provisions for artwork in his will, the paintings were transferred to Radford University in Virginia, but it had no room to store them. Carney came to the rescue, taking the paintings and donating 40 to WMU.

Lācis organized an exhibit of Lowder’s work earlier this year, but she says it will be permanently hung in Western’s School of Fine Arts and elsewhere on campus.

“For all the visitors that come through, and to have the work in our offices, it’s something that is an experience that is really important for a happy work life,” Lācis says.

Lowder’s work is in the permanent collections of the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh; the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; the Kalamazoo Institute of Art; and Western Michigan University. His solo and group exhibitions include scores of venues across Michigan and North Carolina as well as galleries in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Florida, Vermont, Indiana, and Virginia.

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