New Mexico Museum of Art: Patio Murals – Santa Fe NM


Four fresco panels entitled “The Voice of the Earth”, “The Voice of the Sky”, “The Voice of the Sipophe”, and “The Voice of the Water” were painted by artist Will Shuster in the patio of the New Mexico Museum of Art under the Public Works Art Project. Indian artist Velino Shije Herrera (a.k.a Ma Pe Wi) trained in fresco in order to help execute the project. The patio murals one of several New Deal arts projects completed by Shuster with federal funding. Shuster initially proposed completing a series of portraits of prominent local Indian artists and craftspeople, but the federal board rejected the idea. Instead, the murals feature images of scenes of New Mexico Indians engaged in traditional practice.

“Born in Philadelphia in November of 1893, Will Shuster studied to be an electrical engineer while at the same time pursuing his interest in art. He worked for the Curtis Publishing Company and met someone there who suggested Shuster meet artist William Server. He started to study sketching with Server and soon was spending every spare moment learning from him. But WWI came and Shuster was sent overseas as a First Lieutenant of infantry. While there he was gassed and became very ill. He developed tuberculosis and was given only about a year to live. The other option was to move to a dry place like the southwest and hope to last awhile longer.

So on March 3, 1920 Will arrived in Santa Fe. It was there he met John Sloan and started studying with him which began a life-long friendship between the two. He also met the four other artists who would become with him Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters). They were Jozef Bakos, Willard Nash, Fremont Ellis and Walter Mruk. The five young men (all in their twenties) started this group in 1921, which became the foundation of the “modernist” art colony in Santa Fe. They were separated from the Taos painters not only by the rough four-hour ride, but their interest in breaking away from the European traditional art which seemed too limited in its expression.

Their first exhibition was at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe during December of 1921. An art critic commented, “These men believe in color and are not afraid to use it. Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted with a great shout of color that’s almost stimulating.”…

Perhaps the activity that many people know Will Shuster for is the creation of the burning of Zozobra in 1925. He and the then editor of the Santa Fe newspaper built a giant puppet with the help of Gustave Baumann that was filled with paper soaked in copper sulfate so it would burn quickly. It represented all the gloom in the community with the idea being to usher out all the gloom before the beginning of the fiesta celebration. It was loosely based on the Yaqui Village tradition of burning a scarecrow-type figure which represented Judas. The tradition of Zozobra remains to this day.

Because of the economic slump in the country Shuster was involved in other projects such as doing ornamental iron work and painting a fresco on an outside wall of the Fine Art Museum. He illustrated a frontier biography written by Governor M.A. Otero called, “My Life on the Frontier.” He took on a WPA project painting murals at Carlsbad Caverns. Gustave Baumann was the field manager of that project in 1933. Shuster felt that the work done by the WPA and the PWAP was one of the most important factors in several decades to stimulate the public’s interest in art. He passed away in 1969 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.” The project was not completed until 1943 because Shuster completely redid “Voice of the Sky” that year.


Source notes

"Treasures on New Mexico Trails: Discover New Deal Art and Architecture" by Kathryn A Flynn in 1995; New Mexico Museum of Art website:

Project originally submitted by Rebecca Potance on November 12, 2014.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

107 W Palace Ave
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Coordinates: 35.688252, -105.939276

2 comments on “New Mexico Museum of Art: Patio Murals – Santa Fe NM

  1. Two small corrections about this project. First, the correct name of the Native American artist who helped Will Shuster is Velino Shije Herrera a.k.a Ma Pe Wi. Secondly, the project was not completed until 1943 because Shuster completely redid “Voice of the Sky” that year . Reference the book Will Shuster : a Santa Fe legend by Joseph Dispenza.

    • Gabriel Milner

      Thank you for pointing this out! We’ve edited the entry to reflect these corrections.

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