Photo: ©Tom Quinn Kumpf
Northern New Mexico folk artist Nicholas Herrera once lived a reckless lifestyle, one that led him to a near-death experience at the young age of twenty-five. A car accident put him into a coma, and what turned out to be a cleansing spiritual experience shifted his trajectory in life. “It changed the whole way of living for me,” says Nicholas Herrera. “I felt that when I got out of the hospital, every evil thing had gone out of my body.” Now, Nicholas uses his artwork to seek meaning in his own life while giving back to others. His work pays homage to traditional religious santero art while adding contemporary elements that voice his unique identity and perspectives. Nicholas Herrera also uses his talents for charitable causes, from making art with troubled teens to creating altar screens in renovated churches. Nicholas’ most recent charitable adventure was unsolicited, however, arriving at his studio by surprise.
It began when Nicholas Herrera’s daughter, Elena, found an abandoned dog in a remote area in Colorado. The dog was sweet-natured and loving, and Elena couldn’t leave her behind. She took her to local shelters but found no owner so she named her “Ticka” and brought her to Nicholas, who agreed to adopt the dog and keep her at his studio in El Rito.
A few weeks later, Nicholas woke up in the middle of the night to chirping sounds inside his house. But when he followed the sounds in search of what he thought were birds, he found nine puppies in his living room and no Ticka. “The dog took off,” says Nicholas, “She said I’m not gonna deal with this. But I went out looking and found her. I guess she thought I would be mad because of the puppies. So I had a talk with her. I said this is your responsibility too, but I’ll help!”
Nicholas built a little dog house with a fence to corral the puppies in his studio, but they ended up wandering around freely while he worked. “It was like my little zoo in there,” says the artist. Elena, who is in school in Santa Fe at the New Mexico School for the Arts, would come and play with the puppies on the weekends at her dad’s studio. Together, they found a home for every puppy, even though Nicholas had a pretty tough interview process for the potential owners. Nicholas planned to keep one of the puppies but when he took her to the vet to get spayed, there was a young boy who quickly fell in love with the animal – so Nicholas gave her to him. He still has Ticka, who Nicholas says snuggles under his arm while he drives. She also keeps him company at the studio, which according to the artist, is much quieter now.
Nicholas Herrera’s upcoming exhibition Corazón y Alma closes out our holiday season with an impassioned display of heart-shaped wall sculptures, created in his primitive folk art style. Corazón y Alma, Spanish for Heart and Soul, opens on Friday, December 29th from 5-7pm at the gallery.