Velino Shije Herrera of Zia Pueblo

Native American artists in 1939 at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington D.C.

Velino Shije Herrera, pictured above, third from right, from Zia Pueblo. Born in 1902 his Keres name, Ma Pe Wi, meant Red Bird. Herrera attended the Santa Fe Indian School at 15 years of age. He and his classmates studied under the tutelage of Dorothy Dunn. Four years later, featured work of his and other students, became part of an exhibition at the Museum of New Mexico. In 1920 the self-taught artist gave the state of New Mexico permission to use his design of the Zia sun symbol, which became the state’s logo and state flag. Excommunication from the pueblo became the plight suffered by Herrera. He betrayed his tribe by giving a sacred design to non-Natives. He also depicted ceremonial practices in his art, another transgression for the people of Zia Pueblo.

The Zia symbol on the New Mexico state flag.

FDR’s New Deal

In 1939 Herrera and other Native artists commissioned by the WPA, under FDR’s New Deal Program, painted large murals. They depicted Pueblo life at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington D.C. The other artists included Allan Houser, Woodrow Crumbo and Gerald Nailor. In 1954 the artist became severely injured in a head-on collision on the highway to Taos. After the accident Velino Shije Herrera’s career as one of New Mexico’s leading Native American artists came to an abrupt end. He spent the rest of his life living as a rancher and died in 1973. 

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