VELINO SHIJE HERRERA
(1902–1973)



Velino Shije Herrera
Story Teller (detail)

There are three stories hidden in this painting.

Can you find them?

The first one is easy to see.

Nine children are sitting quietly, making part of a circle. The tenth child is standing up. His hand is behind an old man who's sitting with them. He could be their grandfather, or he might be a teacher. From the way the children are watching him, we can guess that he must be telling them something important!

If you read the title of the painting, you know the children are hearing a story. But that's just one of the stories in the painting!

The second story is a little harder to see.

Did you notice that four of the children are wearing Native American clothing, and that they're all looking at the story teller with respect? That's because, in Native American communities, the storyteller has a very serious job. While he's telling the children stories, he's also teaching them lessons—where their people came from, what they've learned about raising plants and animals, what they believe, and how to behave. This is how the story teller passes his community's way of life from the older people to the younger ones.

The storyteller's job is the second story we can see in this painting. What do you think the third story could be?

This story is the hardest one to see. It's the story of how this painting came to be made.

The artist who painted Story Teller was named Velino Shije Herrera. He was a Pueblo Indian. Pueblo is the Spanish word for town or village. For years and years, the towns the Pueblo people lived in didn't change very much, and the way they lived in them didn't change much either. They sang the same songs, danced the same dances, and told the same stories that they always had.

That's what Velino Herrera wanted to put in his paintings—all the customs of Pueblo life that hadn't changed since before he was born.

But some things had changed, and one of them was the way the Pueblo Indian artists painted.

Long ago, Native American artists didn't use watercolor, and they certainly never had gouache—the special kind of watercolor Velino Herrera used to paint Story Teller. He learned to use gouache in school, during art classes set up by the government. The teachers in these classes showed their students new kinds of art supplies. Later, Velino Herrera worked in one of these schools himself, teaching this new style of painting to other young Native Americans.

So the third story in this painting is the story of how Native American art changed with the introduction of new materials.

Now you've seen the stories hidden in the painting. By themselves, each story is interesting. But, really, all three stories are connected.

Doesn't that make them even more interesting?

And doesn't that make the painting more interesting, too?

COULD YOU GUESS THAT…

…Velino Herrera's friends called him the "singing artist," because he was always singing as he painted? Singing reminds us of birds, and Velino Herrera was also named for a bird. His Indian-language name was Ma Pe Wi, which means red bird or oriole.

…the New Mexico state flag (right) has one of Velino Herrera's designs on it? Zia, the name of his pueblo, is also the Indian-language symbol for sun. Velino Herrera gave his version of the Zia symbol to the state government, and they made it the official state seal. Now you can see it all over New Mexico—even on the license plates!

…a lot of people in the Zia community didn't think Velino Herrera should have given the Zia sign away? They thought only the Pueblo people should be able to use it. What do you think?

…Pueblo potters often make storyteller figures out of clay? These clay figures are usually shown holding children, because children love their stories. They usually have their mouths open, too, because they love to talk!

New Mexico state flag