Tonita Pena was a Native American Pueblo painter of San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. She was raised by her aunt, Martina Vigil, a prominent Cochiti Pueblo potter. She attended the Santa Fe Indian School, where she was a child prodigy, producing successful sketches at the age of seven. Ten years later, she was a recognized professional artist. She was an instructor at the Santa Fe Indian School and at the Albuquerque Indian School, and became the most influential Native American woman artist of her time - a dominant force in the maturing of contemporary Native American art. She was given the title "Grand Old Lady of Pueblo Art," as she was a major success in painting and generously shared her skills with younger artists, many of whom owe their careers to her influence.
Her medium was primarily pen and ink embellished watercolor, the favorite medium of the early 1920s and 1930s, due to professional materials rarely being available to most Native American artists. She became the first Pueblo Indian easel painter, and doing genre painting of local village life, she broke away from the stereotype of only men doing narrative painting. Tonita was encouraged by New Mexico archeologist and Museum Director Edgar Hewitt and painter Kenneth Chapman, who supplied her with materials and purchased her paintings. She executed several wall paintings in New Mexico, was a featured participant in the 1931 Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts organized in New York City by John Sloan, and demonstrated at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1933. At Tonita's death, her husband, in compliance with Pueblo custom, burnt all her remaining paintings and personal effects.