Nevada City artist’s work points to native plight
March 11, 2013
Although Judith Lowry’s Native American ancestry leads back to Lassen County, the Nevada City resident uses her art to raise awareness of local indigenous people’s efforts to preserve their culture.
“I think her art brings people into a subject that is sometimes difficult to talk about and hard to understand if you aren’t in the culture,” said Shelly Covert, a member of the Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council.
Lowry is much more than an artist. She has published a children’s book that is growing in popularity, works with various Nevada County nonprofit charitable organizations and has been known to weigh in on political matters, sometimes in a feisty manner, she admits.
“She is really passionate,” Covert said. “Her energy is just phenomenal. Trying to keep up with her is tough.”
“(Judith Lowry) is really passionate. Her energy is just phenomenal. Trying to keep up with her is tough.”
— Shelly Covert, Nevada City Rancheria board of directors member
While Lowry said she is a enrolled as a member of the federally-recognized Pitt River tribe, she refers to herself as Northern Maidu.
“The Maidu is a big nation, like America,” Lowry said. “There are a lot of little states, cities and neighborhoods.”
Her mother, June Shirley Harrison, was an Australian white woman and her father, Leonard Lowry, was an American Indian and a decorated in World War II veteran, his daughter said.
Leonard Lowry moved his children around. They were not raised in his native homelands, located around Susanville in Lassen County, according to a pamphlet produced by the Pence Art Gallery, which has displayed Judith Lowry’s art. Part of her childhood entailed travels to places as diverse as Italy, France, Germany and Japan.
The first Native American activist Judith Lowry met was Richard Oakes, who led a two-year occupation of Alcatraz Island beginning in 1971 with Bay Area ingenious people and students.
Shortly after she met him, Oakes was shot and killed, Lowry said.
Cousin, Fred A. Alvarez, was reportedly murdered by James Hughes in the widely publicized 1981 “Octopus murders” of three people near Palm Springs, according to the television station KESQ, a Palm Springs CBS affiliate. Although The Desert Sun reported the charges were later dropped against Hughes, an admitted former mafia hitman, Judith Lowry still attributes her cousin’s death to him.
“Because of those events, I take tribal matters very seriously,” she said.
Lowery moved to Susanville in the 1970s, where she raised her children as a single mother.
In the years that followed, Lowry honed her photography skills. In 1988, she garnered her bachelor’s degree in fine art from Humbolt State and a master’s in 1992 in painting and drawing for California State-Chico. “I started in photography and fell into painting,” Lowry said, “or rather it choose me.”
In addition to recent exhibitions at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno and the traveling “Ignite: Art of Sustainability” showcase, Lowry has art permanently on display in the hallways of Smithsonian.
Lowry’s art is inspired by ingenious heritage, she said.
“Her art allows people to see aspects of our culture,” Covert said.
Long after Lowry moved to Nevada City in 1996, she formed an informal nonprofit entity, California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project, which assisted in the restoration of Nevada City’s Firehouse No. 1 Museum, which features a section dedicated to the Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan.
The artist not only uses her art to champion the indigenous cause, but she is also outspoken about the Nisenan’s fight for recognition.
“I can’t speak for any tribal groups in the area, but the Nisenan have passed scrutiny with flying colors,” Lowry said.
“We can’t say the same for any other groups in the area.”
Lowry has also been published. Her book “Home to Medicine Mountain” tells the real-life experiences of her father and uncle in a government-run boarding school in the 1930s, where they were taught to unlearn their native ways.
Lowry illustrated the book and it was written by Chiori Santiago, an author and activist who passed away from cancer in 2007.
“I didn’t know it was going to become as big as it has become,” Lowry said.
The book has gained traction in elementary schools nationwide as education curricula regarding the history of indigenous people becomes more common, Lowry said.
On Nov. 7, Lowry appeared via Skype to a fourth-grade classroom at The Philadelphia School. Locally, lessons about Nevada City’s Nisenan people are being taught in the town’s classrooms.
“There is still time to educate people,” Lowry said. “To see these lessons being taught in schools is encouraging.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the governing body on which Shelly Covert is a member. The Union regrets the error.