AZTEC — If you hear thundering drums echoing in Aztec on Tuesday evening, look no further than the Aztec Public Library.
On Tuesday, the library will host a presentation and talk by Arnold Herrera, a second generation Pueblo drum maker from Cochiti Pueblo, which is located 22 miles southwest of Santa Fe in Sandoval County. Herrera, 74, has been making his family's signature drum more than 40 years. His appearance in Aztec is sponsored by the New Mexico Humanities Council's Chautauqua program.
"I take my drums everywhere with me and share how I make a drum and talk about it," Herrera said. "For me, the drum is Pueblo culture, and I've been making them my family's way for a long while. My three sons also have become makers, crafts people, of drums and willow baskets. I'm rich in knowledge. You've got to sacrifice to do the work. It's hard, but it helped me to learn more about who I am. You learn more about what's behind it, about the culture."
The Herrera family spent the majority of the year handcrafting their custom drums, using methods Arnold Herrera learned from his father, Santiago "Jim" Herrera. They also play as a family band, singing and playing at festivals, fairs and markets around the state and the country.
In 2005, Arnold Herrera flew to Washington, D.C., to play for more than 80,000 gathered at the National Mall to celebrate the opening of the Native American Museum. He has also traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to play during Cinco de Mayo.
"My dad was a silversmith, drum maker, so talented, and I grew up in that environment," Herrera said. "My family makes our drums using tools my father made, the traditional way, the way the old people used to do it."
Herrera uses only natural processes to handcraft his drums, using primarily Aspen logs for the drum and cow hides for the drum heads. Each year, his family business produces approximately 30 drums.
"Once the hide comes off the cattle, I take over," he said. "I do the cleaning in the raw state. Unlike modern methods, I don't use any chemicals to remove any of the hair and the skins retain their natural oils that gives the drums a long life."
Part of that process involves soaking the skins in an irrigation ditch for two weeks before fishing them back out and burying them in wet sand Herrera waters daily to allow natural decomposition to clean the skins of hair.
"They're meant to be played, not put on a shelf," he said. "I enjoy making them and playing them. I'm always thinking about who it is who started all of this. I'm the one at this point using all that knowledge that came from my dad, and now it is important to pass it along to anyone who is interested."
Reconnecting everyone he meets to the universal sound of the drum and sharing his lifetime of experience is what keeps Herrera active in his mid-70s.
"Drums are so central. Humans use drums no matter where, all over the world. Music would just be chaotic without a beat, the drum," Herrera said. "Some people refer to it as the heartbeat of Mother Earth, like a mother carrying the child and when it's born it still remembers the heartbeat. My favorite times are dictated by Mother Nature if you're not listening to Mother Nature. That's what's neat about our culture, we go with the seasons."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.