Joe Hilario Herrera (1923-2001) See Ru
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Joe Hilario Herrera (1923-1990s) See Ru was an innovative and successful Native American painter. His father was from Cochiti Pueblo, and his mother—pioneering painter Tonita Vigil Peña (1893-1949) Quah Ah—from San Ildefonso. Though his artistic inheritance and early art education came from his mother, Herrera is considered to be from Cochiti pueblo. He attended the Santa Fe Indian School, served in the US Army during World War II, worked at the Laboratory of Anthropology, and eventually completed a degree in art education at the University of New Mexico.
He started his painting of pueblo subjects in the style of his mother’s paintings. He painted pueblo dancers in very traditional Indian School style—flat dimension, no ground plane, and no background or sky scenes. Later in life, he switched to abstract and modernist painting, based on the influence of Raymond Jonson. He was one of the first of the Indian artists to move away from traditional representational art into the more abstract forms of self-expression.
In her book Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art, Clara Lee Tanner describes Herrera’s innovate style: “In the mid-1950s, Herrera developed a style which was encouraging for the future of Indian painting. The rich design-lore of the past and much that is prevalent in religious forms today he combined into abstract painting. Again it is the clever manipulation of the age-old and omnipresent themes—sun, moon, clouds, rain, lightning, kachinas, birds, the sacred serpent… The end product is essentially Indian; it is also modern, for abstract art is preoccupied with form and color and pattern.” Dorothy Dunn’s American Indian Painting of the Southwest and Plains Areas states that he “did justice to a fine tradition in his authentically drawn ceremonial subjects. His work was unlike that of his renowned mother, Quah Ah, for his was coolly decorative where hers was warmly natural.”
- Southwest Indian Painting: A Changing Art by Clara Lee Tanner
- American Indian Painting of the Southwest and Plains Areas by Dorothy Dunn
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