Another Pueblo artist described Herrera (Zia Pueblo), also known by this Indian name of Ma Pe Wi, as the “singing artist” because as he drew, Herrera would sing songs appropriate for the ceremony he was depicting. Herrera gave permission to the state of New Mexico to adapt the design of the Zia sun symbol for use as the state logo. The red design on a yellow field can be seen on the state flag, seal, and license plates. The artist received some criticism from other members of the Zia community for betraying his people by giving the traditional Pueblo design to non-Indians.
With Awa Tsireh, Herrera painted under the sponsorship of the School of American Research and in the late 1930s, Herrera taught painting at the Albuquerque Indian School. In 1939 he was commissioned to create a series of murals for the Department of the Interior building in Washington, D.C. He spent much of his life as a rancher and cowboy.Andrew Connors Pueblo Indian Watercolors: Learning by Looking, A Study Guide (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1993).
Born at Zia Pueblo, New Mexico, Herrera was a self-taught artist whose painting career began in 1917 at the School of American Research in Santa Fe. His subjects included native dances, genre scenes from the pueblos, portraits, and hunting scenes. As his work grew in breadth and confidence, his style changed from flat, patternlike compositions to more naturalistic representations, often with a delicate rendering of texture and detail. In 1938 he rporduced ancient kiva murals found at Kuau (near Bernalillo, New Mexico). He also painted murals for the Department of the Interior building in Washington, D.C., and illustrated several books on Pueblo life and art. With his skillful blend of tradition and innovation, Ma-Pe-Wi became one of the most highly regarded figures in the Indian watercolor movement.
Pach, Walter, “Notes on the Indian Water-Colours.” The Dial 68 (March 1920): 343–45.
Dunn. American Indian Painting, pp. 204–8.
Tanner. Southwest Indian Painting, pp. 151–55.
Charles Eldredge, Julie Schimmel, and William H. Truettner Art in New Mexico, 1900–1945: Paths to Taos and Santa Fe (Washington, DC: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1986)