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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
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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