El Rito, New Mexico 1964
Originally photographed by Chuck Rosenak. Image is courtesy of the Chuck and Jan Rosenak research material, 1990-1999, in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Luce Artist Biography
Nicholas Herrera is known as El Rito Santero (the Saint maker of El Rito) in his New Mexico community. When he was young, he was mixed up in drugs, alcohol, guns, and fast cars and had several run-ins with the police. In 1990, however, he was involved in a serious car accident that changed his life. The accident put him in a coma, during which he saw a muerte (death figure) by his great-uncle José Inés Herrera at the end of a tunnel of light. He believes this image brought him out of the coma and that God intended for him to become a saint maker (Awalt and Rhetts, Herrera, Visions of My Heart, with essay by Charles Rosenak, 2003). Saint makers, or santeros, create devotional paintings and carvings of saints for use in churches and in private homes. Herrera makes crucifixes, death figures, and saints as well as sculptures inspired by modern issues such as police brutality and the dangers of nuclear power.