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Guided by Hashem, Tucsonan dedicates life to art, service

Tucson artist Lynn Rae Lowe in her Metal Arts Village studio (Sheila Wilensky)

Judaism is a profound part of life for Tucson metal artist Lynn Rae Lowe, who is known for her award-winning chanukiot and other Judaica. But it wasn’t always so. Men like her father who returned from World War II wanted to assimilate into American society. “They didn’t want to show fervor for Judaism,” she told the AJP. “They didn’t want to wave a Jewish flag.”

Lowe had a “very ecumenical upbringing” in a Reform Jewish family in Detroit, Mich. Her father’s brother was a rabbi, and although her mother was Jewish she had attended a Catholic school and later became interested in Buddhism.

“My Jewish education was cut short when I was thrown out of Hebrew school for not listening,” says Lowe, one of the founding members of the Metal Arts Village at 3230 N. Dodge Blvd. Her formal Jewish education was thwarted, but Hashem has increasingly guided her life, she says, using the Hebrew word for God that means, literally, “the name.”

In 1974, Lowe organized a community Seder in Telluride, Colo., where she and her first husband and two sons lived. “What happened there brought me back to my Judaism,” she says. Local authorities denied permission to serve alcohol after 6 p.m., including wine, an integral part of the Passover Seder. The sheriff came through the saloon-like swinging doors — actually an old brothel where the Seder was being held — and interrupted the service, notes Lowe, who ended up testifying before the Colorado State Legislature about the unfairness of the law.

She began studying Kabbalah after that experience. “It was never my conscious intention to be a Judaic artist,” says Lowe. “I started to have dreams of a city on a hill with people dressed as religious Jews.” When Lowe’s father died three years ago, “I studied [the Kabbalah] every Thursday morning for a few hours by phone with my Hasidic cousin in Detroit,” she says. “It was my way of saying Kaddish.”

Lowe’s cousin offered to accompany her to Israel in 2010. Previously, she had only visited Israel as part of a cruise. “I needed to go to Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah. I walked the streets alone,” she says. “It was like I was home. I felt like I had been there.”

While in Tzfat, Lowe met Eliav, the young manager of an art gallery. She showed him her work on her website. “He was amazed,” says Lowe. When she returned in April 2011 she literally bumped into him walking down the street. “It was Hashem,” she says, that brought them together.

“The only piece of art I had with me was my Kabbalistic Sephirot, or tree of life,” says Lowe, explaining that the painting shows “orbs of light that depict characteristics, qualities that we as souls potentially want to make stronger in our lives. The concept in Judaism is that everything is cyclical. At Rosh Hashanah,” she adds, “we don’t want to come back as the same person. We want to continue to grow and go toward the [higher levels of] light. Life is not static.”

Eliav co-owned a new gallery, Sarah’s Tent, and he wanted to turn her Sephirot into freestanding sculptures.

Lowe will return to Israel in 2012 to research ways of creating the sculptures, working with local Israeli artisans to transfer her art “into worthy representations of the [Kabbalistic] Tree of Life.”

Her upcoming trip to Israel — and her 65th birthday on Dec. 24 — will precipitate a new journey for Lowe, who will be closing her Metal Arts Gallery at the end of the year.

“It is said in the Torah that anybody can change in 40 days,” asserts Lowe, a widow since her second husband died in 2000. “But as Jews we already have a spark of God in us. So I’ll stay for at least 39 days until I can affect the next change. At this point in my life, at 65, I’m becoming an elder,” she says. “I think we’re supposed to go on to a life of service, not of our own personal goals. I want to merge my art to service to other people.”

As a member of Congregation Or Chadash, a volunteer chaplain at University Medical Center, and a hospice worker, “I find it more satisfying helping people than selling art,” says Lowe. But despite the closing of her retail space, she will always create art and accept commissions. Lowe will be the commencement speaker at the Art Institute of Tucson this month, and will teach a class in 2012 at The Drawing Studio.

Sitting in her studio surrounded by her paintings, metal chanukiot and other Judaica, jewelry, mobiles and whimsical pieces, Lowe says, “My art is an extension of who I am. I believe that Hashem has a mission for me; we all have a mission.

“When God said to Abraham ‘you go,’” she continues, “he didn’t give him an address. I don’t know what my destination is but I’m on a journey. It’s so absolutely amazing to me that Judaism has become such an important part of my life.”