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LOWMAN, ALBERT TERRY [AL]

Al Lowman (1935–2013).
Though author, historian, and folklorist Al Lowman (1935–2013) described himself as a “sedentary lifestyle activist,” his works garnered high praise from fellow authors and bibliophiles. Courtesy Darlyne Lowman.

LOWMAN, ALBERT TERRY [AL] (1935–2013). Albert Terry Lowman (who preferred to be known simply as Al Lowman), author, historian, bibliophile, biographer, and folklorist, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, to Fred Gabriel Lowman and Grace Axtell (Bruff) Lowman on February 2, 1935. The family lived on a Nueces County cotton farm south of Violet on the road to Petronila. Al had an older brother, Fred Jr., and a younger sister, Mellie Lou. Their mother was a school teacher.

Al Lowman recalled, “My earliest memories are of Aladdin lanterns, battery-powered radios, treadle sewing machines, and mud roads.” In another article, he wrote: “…the two biggest events in my early life were the arrival of electricity to our rural Nueces County home two weeks before Christmas in 1938 and the appearance of the bookmobile the following summer.” 

In 1944 the Lowman family relocated to Stringtown, near San Marcos, and moved into a house where Al would reside for the next sixty-five years. He attended public school in San Marcos and began his college career at Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University). Later he attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he joined the national honorary political science fraternity Pi Sigma Alpha, and majored in government and economics. He completed his B.A. degree in 1957 and his M.A. in 1962. Several years later Lowman began a twenty-one-year stint as a researcher and writer at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio. He commuted so many years from San Marcos to Austin and to San Antonio that he used to say if he ever wrote an autobiography, he would call it “35 Years on Interstate 35.” 

Lowman met his wife, Darlyne Marie Rossow, in a bookstore. They married in the mid-1960s.  He sometimes described her as the “most expensive bookstore acquisition and his most cherished first edition.” They had a son, Todd Alan, and a daughter, Cathy Lynn.

Lowman’s books include This Bitterly Beautiful Land: A Texas Commonplace Book (1972); Printer at the Pass: The Work of Carl Hertzog (1972); First United Methodist Church, San Marcos, Texas: 125th Anniversary Year, 1847–1972 (1972); Printing Arts in Texas (1975); Remembering Carl Hertzog, A Texas Printer and His Books (1985); and Remembering Dudley Dobie, The First Bookseller to Enrich My Life And Empty My Pockets (1993). Most of these books were about book collecting and fine printing, and the limited first editions of these books were, themselves, examples of fine book design, printing, paper, and binding and have become rare and sought-after volumes. 

John H. Jenkins, in his Basic Texas Books, called Lowman’s Printing Arts in Texas “the best history of fine printing in Texas,” and artist Jerry Bywaters characterized the work as “the most complete history of our fine printing yet to be found.” Artist and writer Tom Lea said its “content is as interesting as its format is handsome.”

Lowman was the biographer of Carl Hertzog, El Paso’s master printer and book designer whose clients included many notable presses, institutions, and bibliophiles.  For many years, Lowman collected every book, booklet, letter, and piece of ephemera printed by Hertzog that he could obtain.  One result was the above-mentioned book Printer at the Pass: The Work of Carl Hertzog, which was originally compiled and written by Lowman as an extensive catalog for a Hertzog exhibition at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures from late November 1970 through the following January. As Ron Tyler mentioned in a memorial for Lowman in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly of October 2013, that book was such a detailed, thorough, definitive work that one librarian called Al Lowman “Hertzog’s Boswell.”  

In addition to the books that Lowman wrote, compiled, and edited, he wrote articles for a number of journals, as well as introductions and articles for many books. These include the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas Libraries, Southwestern Art, Arizona and the West, annual publications of the Texas Folklore Society, Texas Books in Review, East Texas Historical Journal, Southwestern American Literature, American West, the Western History Association’s Western Historical Quarterly, the Philosophical Society of Texas, the Book Club of California, Handbook of Texas, Tom Lea’s book Battle Stations (1988), the book Ralph Webster Yarborough at 80 (1984), the book Texas Country: The Changing Rural Scene (1986), and the book Collecting Texas (2010). 

Lowman was a fellow and life member of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA); he served as its president in 2000–01. Frequently he served as auctioneer of the TSHA’s book auction, chaired the book lovers’ breakfast, and presented papers at the annual meetings. Lowman and his wife gave TSHA a grant to design the six-volume New Handbook of Texas (1996). He also was very active in the Texas Folklore Society and served as that organization’s president in 1990–91. He held memberships in Jenkins Garrett’s Collectors’ Institute, the Philosophical Society of Texas, the Book Club of Texas (president 1992–94), and the Western History Association. He was a member of the Grolier Club of New York, the world’s oldest organization of book collectors. Lowman was an extremely knowledgeable collector, authority, and connoisseur of books for more than half a century, as well as an expert on fine printing and book design. He relished the opportunity to meet and get to know other bibliophiles, along with booksellers, authors, publishers, and others in the book world. During his career, Lowman worked with many exceptionally-talented book people, including Carl Hertzog, José Cisneros, Gould Whaley, Jr., Charlotte Whaley, Tom Lea, Barbara Whitehead, Lonn Taylor, Bill Wittliff, and the Bill Holman family. 

Lowman made presentations at many annual meetings of the Texas Folklore Society and the Texas State Historical Association. He spoke to many groups around Texas, including groups in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Galveston, El Paso, Abilene, Midland, Kerrville, College Station, Fredericksburg, San Marcos, and Jefferson.

He was an active member of the Hays County Historical Commission; he wrote the text for historical markers along the Camino Real in Hays County and was involved in getting the markers installed. Lowman was also a member of the Heritage Association of San Marcos and led a fundraising drive to place a Jason Scull sculpture of Jack C. Hays, namesake of Hays County, on the lawn of the county courthouse. Lowman served two (non-consecutive) terms on the board of the Central Texas Higher Education Authority. He was a member of the San Marcos League of Women Voters and served a term as the president of that organization. From 1971 to 1975, he served on the Texas Committee for the Humanities.  

Lowman, a Democrat, served as a Democrat precinct chairman and kept abreast of politics at the local, state, and national levels. He served for more than twenty years in the Texas National Guard, followed by ten years in the U. S. Army Reserve, before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He once noted that the income from his military career financed his book-collecting activities.

Lowman was a longtime member of the First United Methodist Church of San Marcos. He attended Sunday school there for more than fifty years and sometimes helped with the teaching duties. He served at various times on the church’s administrative board, and he wrote the book that commemorated the church’s 125-year anniversary.

During the final years of his life, Lowman suffered from a rare and fatal disease known as PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy). He died on April 16, 2013, at seventy-eight years of age. Burial was in the San Marcos Cemetery. He left his extensive book collection to archives and for public auction. In 2013 Darlyne Lowman established the Al Lowman Memorial Prize for the best book on Texas county or local history to be awarded at the annual Texas State Historical Association meetings. It was established to encourage the publication of books on Texas county and local history.

Al Lowman was heralded for his excellent storytelling, sense of humor, and quick wit. Often referring to himself as a “sedentary lifestyle activist,” his personal motto was: “Give me levity, or give me death.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

“Albert Terry ‘Al’ Lowman,” Find A Grave Memorial (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=108818725), accessed April 17, 2016.  Announcement of “The 2013 Al Lowman Memorial Prize for Best Book on Texas County or Local History,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 117 (October 2013). Austin American-Statesman, March 6, 1994. Dallas Morning News, April 30, 1981; February 16, 1986; April 7, 1991. Del Rio News Herald, October 17, 1990. Galveston Daily News, April 24, 1991.  John H. Jenkins, Basic Texas Books, An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works for a Research Library (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983; rpt. 1988).  Kerrville Mountain Sun, March 8, 1973. Thomas H. Kreneck and Gerald D. Saxon, eds., Collecting Texas: Essays on Texana Collectors and the Creation of Research Libraries (Dallas: The Book Club of Texas, 2010). Tom Lea, Battle Stations (Dallas: Still Point Press, 1988). Al Lowman, “Putting Your Friends on the Shelf,” The Philosophical Society of Texas, 2003 (http://www.pstx.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=294:putting-your-friends-on-the-shelf&catid=24&Itemid=189), accessed March 27, 2016. Al Lowman, Self-obituary, Pennington Funeral Home, April 2013 (http://www.penningtonfuneralhome.com/obituaries/al-lowman/), accessed February 11, 2016. San Antonio Express, May 11, 1975.  Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, September 4, 1975. The Sunday Telegraph (Nashua, New Hampshire), June 16, 1991. Ron Tyler, “In Memoriam,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 117 (October 2013). Kenneth L. Untiedt, ed., First Timers and Old Timers: The Texas Folklore Society Fire Burns On (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2012).

Robert J. Duncan

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Handbook of Texas Online, Robert J. Duncan, "Lowman, Albert Terry [Al] ," accessed December 11, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/flowm.

Uploaded on July 28, 2016. Modified on September 17, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.