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That Is No Longer Our Smoke Sign

Justino Herrera (born 1920)
That Is No Longer Our Smoke Sign, ca. 1950s

Excerpt from Pueblo Indian Watercolors: Learning by Looking

Justino Herrera served in the United States Army during World War II. Perhaps because of his experiences during the war, when he returned to New Mexico he painted this image about the explosion of a nuclear bomb. The painting depicts five people looking towards the United States Capitol behind which rises the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. The figures represent a Spanish Franciscan friar, symbolic of the Catholic missionaries sent from Spain to convert the Native American population to Christianity; a doctor; a male and a female Pueblo Indian; and an Anglo school teacher.

The doctor and teacher represent the new science and new education that has been brought into the region since the arrival of the United States government in 1848. The building on the left is a mission church, and the building on the right is a school with the United States flag in front. The world's first atomic bomb was developed in the northern New Mexico town of Los Alamos. With irony, the artist titled the painting That Is No Longer Our Smoke Sign. The title may also refer to the stereotype of Indians sending messages using puffs of smoke, even though Pueblo Indians did not traditionally communicate through smoke signals.

Source: Andrew Connors. Pueblo Indian Watercolors: Learning by Looking (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art). ©1993 National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Electronic version: ©1998 National Museum of American Art. All rights reserved.

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