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 Velino Shije Herrera  (1902 - 1973)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico / Mexico      Known for: pueblo dance genre painting, illustration

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Ad Code: 3
Velino Herrera
An example of work by Velino Shije Herrera
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
Born: Zia Pueblo, 22 October 1902.

Education: Santa Fe Indian Boarding School, and after school painting sessions.

Career: Rancher; educator in painting at the Albuquerque Indian School; illustrator, bookbinder, laborer on archeological digs, painter for the School of American Research, Santa Fe.

Awards: Commissioned to paint 2,200 feet of murals, U.S. Department of the Interior Building, Washington D.C., 1939; Grand Award, Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonials, 1948; Palmes d'Academiques, France, 1954.

Died: 30 January 1973.

Velino Shije Herrera, later called Ma Pe Wi, was part of the original group of early Pueblo Indian easel painters (1910-1930).  Members from this first group, Herrera, Fred Kabotie, Alfonso Roybal, and Tonita Pena, to name a few, depicted scenes from the social and religious life of their respective pueblo communities using watercolors and paper.  When compared to historic painted art forms such as pottery and kiva murals, these secular paintings marked a distinct change in both subject matter and medium. Pueblo Indian watercolor paintings were championed as a new art form and were marketed primarily for sale to white patrons.

As a teenager, Herrera attended the Santa Fe Indian Boarding School, where he and a few other students, Kabotie, Otis Polelonema, and Roybal, were invited to paint after school at the home of Elizabeth De Huff, wife of the school's superintendent. Despite the Bureau of Indian Affairs ban prohibiting arts training, De Huff provided the students with art supplies during these informal art sessions and encouraged them to draw and paint.

At the time when Herrera began easel painting, it was not considered a viable profession for American Indians by many native and non-native people.  Some of the painters found it difficult to work at home due to negative attitudes in their pueblo communities towards this type of secular painting, especially if it involved the depiction of ceremonial dances.  In fact Herrera was later ostracized by the elders of his pueblo for his painting activities. Nevertheless he continued to paint kachinas and dance ceremonies, stating, "I have danced in the ceremonies. I feel it is important to record these costumes."

In 1919 the paintings that came out of the De Huff art sessions were exhibited for the first time at the Museum of New Mexico, where they caught the attention of Dr. Edgar L. Hewett, then director of the museum.  Of his start in painting Herrera recalled, "Dr. Hewett selected a few he thought had talent and started us to painting.  I was one.  I have been painting ever since."  Along with Kabotie and Roybal, Herrera was hired by Hewett as a bookbinder, a laborer on archeological digs, and as an artist painting for the School of American Research.

No doubt Herrera and his contemporaries influenced one another.  Their works of art share certain characteristic traits, like the use of outlined forms, paint applied in blocks of color, extensive detailing of clothing, and use of non-specific space. Despite this each artist developed their own particular area of specialization.  For Kabotie it was his detailed representations of ceremonial dances and dancers, while Pena is distinguished for her images of women working or dancing.  Herrera is most noted for his sensitive handling of landscapes and hunting scenes. Herrera utilized a stylized treatment of the land and its inhabitants.  Although not like the European-American concepts of landscape, Herrera's representation of the natural world is indicative of his pueblo world view where key elements are singled out for attention and contemplation.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Herrera's paintings were exhibited nationally in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C.  His paintings were also included in the Exposition of Tribal Indian Arts, which toured the United States and Europe from 1931 to 1933, promoting all forms of American Indian art.  Herrera maintained a studio in Santa Fe and taught painting at the Albuquerque Indian School in 1936.  In 1939 Herrera and five other artists were commissioned to paint 2,200 feet of murals for the new U.S. Department of the Interior Building in Washington D.C. Herrera also illustrated numerous books by Ruth Underhill. Further recognition of his artistic talents came in 1954 when he received the French Palmes d'Academiques award. Unfortunately, Herrera did little painting after a 1956 auto accident in which he was injured and his wife was killed.

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