|Native American Painting
Tribal Censorship in the Pueblos
Early painters in many tribes faced controversy and discrimination for their subject matter
and sometimes the styles they painted in.
Many painters faced controversies for their representation of ceremonial subjects, but the
conflicts generated by those of Tonita Peña. Velino Shije Herrera. and Pablita Verlarde are
best known to researchers, and they are the most severe reaction from tribal authorities.
Peña was most successful in surmounting criticisms that her works revealed too much, due in
some measure to the defense mounted on her behalf by her husband Epitacio Arquero,
four-time governor of Cochiti.
In the 1960s, Verlarde encountered numerous difficulties when she moved back to Santa Clara
following her divorce and two decades of living outside the Pueblo. In addition to the
prescriptions she encountered on specific representations, she faced charges of acting
selfishly, without benefit to the community. She continued to paint despite these objections.
The works of Velino Shije Herrera seem to have raised the most serious objections and
resulted in the strongest disciplinary actions. Herrera first encountered difficulties while
painting under Elizabeth DeHuff's mentorship at the SFIS, with Zia's tribal leaders requiring
him to withdraw one of his paintings from an exhibition.
Later, he would produce illustrations for Hewett that depicted certain of the masked dances
that Zia treated as closed observances. The reasons for Herrera's violations may be due to his
youth and exposure to the paintings of Fred Kabotie and Otis Polelomena.
Like many boarding school students, Herrera was removed from his community at quite a young
age, and may not have been fully aware of the protocols he transgressed. Masked dances also
abounded in the works of the two young painters from Hopi, where katsina dances are public
rites. Punitive measures against Herrera took the form of penalties exacted on his property
and temporary expulsion from the Pueblo.