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  • "Sage was an incredible woman. She is sorely missed."
    - Ala and Ralph Isham
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FULLER COWLES--Sage. Dancer, philanthropist, activist, and educator, died on November 21, 2013 in Minneapolis, MN. She was 88. A devoted mother of four, Sage was best known for her support of contemporary dance artists. Sage was a longtime board member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Co., toured as a guest artist in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's production "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land," and earned a Lifetime Achievement "Ernie" Award from Dance/USA in 2004. Sage was preceded in death by her husband, John Cowles, Jr., former CEO of Cowles Media Co. and publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Sage was born on May 5, 1925, in Paris, to Jane Sage White (sculptor) and Charles Fairchild Fuller (architect). She attended Rippowam School in Bedford Village, NY. After her parents divorced, her mother married publisher Cass Canfield who later became President of Harper and Row. Sage spent the summers of 1936 and 1937 at Perry Mansfield Camp, rooming with actress Julie Harris. Through the late 1930's and early 40's she received dance training from Hanya Holm, Louis Horst, Ella Daganova, Louise Kloepper, The Ned Wayburn School of Dance, The School of American Ballet and Lisa Gardiner's School of Ballet. In 1943 she met Merce Cunningham, who became a life-long friend and inspiration. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.A. in Art History. A student of Margaret H'Doubler, Sage was also a member of the Wisconsin Dance Group, which included Mary Hinkson, Matt Turney and Miriam Cole. She married Dr. Edmundo Flores in 1946; the marriage ended in divorce in 1950. In 1950, while a dancer on Broadway's "Bless You All" and on TV's "Lucky Strike Hit Parade," Sage met John Cowles, Jr. Two years later the couple married and moved to Kansas, where John was in the Army at Ft. Riley. After moving to Minneapolis in 1953, Sage danced with the Nancy Hauser Contemporary Dance Co., the Joan Skinner Dance Co. and co-founded the Dancers' Forum. Sage also turned her attention to social and civic causes. In 1959 she co-founded the Highcroft Country Day School. During the 1960's she became active in civil rights advocacy with "The Way," Planned Parenthood and the Minneapolis Mayor's Commission on Human Relations. In the 1970's Sage served on the Three School Foundation Board that implemented the merger of Highcroft, Northrop and Blake schools. Interested in body/mind disciplines, Sage became involved with dance therapy and worked with autistic children at Washburn Child Guidance Center. She served as the Movement Coordinator to the Reflective Leadership program at the University of Minnesota and developed her personal workshops "Use of Movement as a Teaching Tool" and "I Can, I Can Choose, and I Can Change." In 2005-2006 Sage was awarded a Louis W. Hill Jr. Philanthropy Fellowship by the U of MN and authored "Getting Ahead of the Curve: Engaging Our Youngest Citizens," calling for movement training as part of early childhood education. From 1976-1983 she collaborated with filmmaker Molly Davies on six film/performance pieces which toured throughout the United States and Europe. "Those pieces were so ahead of their time in the 1970's with the mix of media and live performance," recalls Philip Bither, performing arts curator, Walker Art Center. In 2005 Sage performed the retrospective "Space, Time and Illusion: Sage Cowles and Molly Davies, at Dance Theater Workshop and the Walker. Sage received grants from the NEA (1979), Jerome Foundation (1980) and Affiliated State Arts Agencies of the Upper Midwest (1981, 1982) for her work. She was part of "A Celebration of Collaborations" (1980) in Minneapolis and performed in the Walker Art Center's "New Dance USA" (1981). She choreographed Suzanne Lacey's "Whispers" (1987), taught "Dance for Non-Dancers" at the Minneapolis YWCA and Metro State University and helped found the Minnesota Independent Chor-eographers Association. During 1990-92 Sage and John toured the USA and Europe as guest artists in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Co. production "Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land." Sage served for 29 years, over five decades, as a Board member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Co., including as Co-Chair from 2000-2004. Sage supported the multidisciplinary exhibition Art Performs Life in 1998 at the Walker, which featured the work of Cunningham, Meredith Monk and Bill T. Jones. She helped to secure the Merce Cunningham Dance Co.'s 15-plus engagements in Minnesota, as well as to bring Cunningham and John Cage's monumental work-in-the-round "Ocean" to a granite quarry near St. Cloud, MN in 2008. During the late 1980's and '90's Sage was a competitive racewalker, setting two U.S. records in her age group and she then became an aerobics instructor. In 1997 Sage teamed with her husband and children to launch a new professional women's fastpitch softball league and later Sage and John made the lead gift for the U of MN's Jane Sage Cowles Stadium for fastpitch. The league continues today as National Pro Fastpitch. In 2001 the Ordway Center honored Sage with a Sally Award for her decades-long support of the arts. In 2005 the annual Sage Awards for Dance were created to honor her extensive contributions. And in 2011, after fourteen years of planning and fundraising, Sage helped launch the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, giving Minnesota its long-awaited flagship for dance. Sage is survived by her four children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A memorial celebration will be held on April 5, at 1:30pm, at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis.

Published in The New York Times on Mar. 19, 2014
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