the Governor's Arts Award Winners

Nicholas Herrera

El Rito

2016 recipient, Artist, Painting/Sculpture/Mixed Media

Nicholas Herrera is one of the most important folk artists in the United States, who has pioneered a folk art form with his more personal interpretations of traditional bultos and retablos, using wood and recycled metal, including salvaged automobile parts.

"These artworks are edgy, comic, satirical and powerful," said nominator Jack Parsons, who received a Governor's Arts Award in 2006. "He is a treasure for our community."

A drunk-driving accident and a near-death experience forced Herrera to choose between life and death. "He chose a life of art," said Carmella Padilla, who received a Governor's Arts Award in 2009 and Luis Tapia, who received a Governor's Arts Award in 1996, in a joint statement.

Herrera is an old soul with a modern outlook, Padilla and Tapia said. "Even with widespread exposure and acclaim, he has stayed true to his artistic history and his home state, while staying true to himself." Herrera himself has said: "Sometimes, I feel like I should have been born in the 1800s. I've got this feeling of the old days in me, like I'm feeling my ancestors, like I want to live like they did."

Tey Marianna Nunn, director and chief curator at the National Hispanic Cultural Center's Art Museum and Visual Arts Program, called Herrera "a trailblazing artist whose works are informed by the Traditional Colonial Santero practice of New Mexico, yet he has developed a style all his own — a style that while rooted in the past, directly addresses contemporary cultural issues."

Herrera has been featured on NPR's Weekend Edition, and has received numerous awards, including the 2006 Award of Distinction from the Folk Art Society of America. His art is in the collection of more than 30 museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, and the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe.