Native Artist Tonita Peña
Tonita Peña of Cochiti seems to have acquired a regular following of visitors who dropped by to watch her work,
some even expressing an interest in buying her art. In a letter to Edgar L. Hewett written in 1921, Peña
mentioned these admirers and requested that Hewett provide her with a studio space at the Museum of New
Mexico, since she felt self-conscious about painting in front of an audience. Peña also seems to have enjoyed
ongoing support from her second husband, Felipe Herrera, who died in 1920, and Epitacio Arquero, whom she
married in 1922.
Following Herrera's death, the governor of Cochiti granted her permission to hire others to fulfill her
agricultural obligations to the Pueblo so that she might be free to paint, providing an income for herself and
three children. Arquero structured family responsibilities such that Peña could continue to devote herself to her
art, with older children helping to care for their younger siblings. When questions over the appropriateness of
her paintings did arise, Arquero, by then governor of Cochiti, provided influential support, and persuaded the
objectors that her sales violated no community standards.
Beyond the realm of approbation, in one notable instance, the introduction of a watercolor into the artist's
community served as the impetus for revitalizing an important aspect of its ritual life. Copyright 2012
Deats, L. Contemporary Native American Artists. 2012.
Reno, D. Contemporary Native American Artists. 1995.
Schaaf, G. American Indian Jewelry I: 1200 Artist Biographies. 2003.