Maria Martinez

 

Martinez a member of the Tewa tribe living at San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico, with her husband Julian, created prized and innovative black-on-black pottery that spurreda revival of Native American pottery-making during the first half of the twentieth century. Maria Martinez generously taught others to make this distinctive pottery, thushelping the residents of San Ildefonso to preserve their traditional way of life.Born around 1887, when Native American pottery production was declining due to improved access to less expensive, mass-produced ceramics and enamel ware,Maria learned to make pots from her aunt, Nicolasa Montoya (1863–1904), who made traditional polychrome cooking vessels. By observing her aunt, the young girllearned how to make perfectly shaped pots without the use of a wheel. However, since pottery-making did not appear to offer an escape from the grinding poverty of the pueblo, Martinez left to attend St. Catherine’s Indian School in Santa Fe. She considered becoming a teacher but returned to the pueblo, where she helped on her family’s farm and resumed making traditional pottery.In 1904, Maria married Julian Martinez, son of a San Ildefonso farmer and saddle maker. In addition to his work as a farm laborer, Julian assisted archaeologistsexcavating nearby ancient pueblos. Through Julian’s connections, the young couple was invited to travel to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, where Mariaexhibited her pottery. The couple demonstrated pottery techniques again at the 1914 Panama-California Exposition and at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.As travel to the west became easier, Anglo artists, writers, and tourists began to flock to New Mexico. These newcomers encouraged Native Americans to producetraditional arts, and Julian and Maria began to collaborate. Using the coil technique, Maria created pots with refined shapes and meticulously burnished them withstones to remove all tool marks. Julian decorated the pots with his adaptations of traditional motifs. Julian’s discovery in 1907 of a shard of shiny, jet-black pottery ledto the collaboration that brought them widespread recognition. The two experimented with various firing techniques before finally discovering in 1919 that bysmothering the fire with ash or horse manure they could produce lustrous black pottery. Much to their surprise, Julian’s painted designs, when used with this firing process, formed matte areas that contrasted with the glossy unpainted surfaces.Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874–1948) was an early collector of Martinez’s pottery, and her black-on-black pots have been included in many exhibitions andmuseum collections. Her descendants and other residents of San Ildefonso continue to create their own variations of Maria’s black-on-black pottery.