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Maria Martinez (1887-1980)

Maria Martinez is considered to be the most collected of traditional Native America pottery. Around 1920 Maria and her husband Julian created the prized, collected and awarded "black-on-black" style of Native American pottery. Throughout her long career, she continued to make pottery while her husband, son, or daughter-in-law painted the traditional designs on her pottery. Maria Martinez pottery has become iconic and has lead to a long history of generational art forms within the Native American Pueblos of the Southwestern United States. Her commercial sale began in the early 1900s and continued until she retired from making pottery around 1971.  Maria learned the art of pottery construction from her aunt (tia) Nicolasa of San Ildefonso Pueblo, Northern New Mexico. Maria Martinez restored the process of black-on-black pottery design from samples of pottery shards discovered near her home.  It was not until around 1919-20 that Maria Martinez with the help of her husband Julian Martinez created the famous black-on-black pottery.  It was this style which was polished, painted and then fired black using horse manure. She worked with Julian until his death in 1943. She then worked with her daughter-in-law Santana who was married to her eldest son, Adam. In the mid-1950's Maria made pieces which were plain and signed with her Tewa name, "Pove-ka," which means "Water Lilly." Beginning in 1956 Maria started to work with her son, Popovi Da.  Once again, Maria would make the pottery, and now her son would paint the designs.  These are often considered among the best of her career after the early work with Julian.  Popovi Da worked to revive polychrome pottery along with creating sienna (double fired) pieces.  They also created a few redware vessels. Popovi passed away in 1971 and around that time Maria Martinez retired from making pottery.  She was the subject of several books during her career.  Alice Marriot wrote the book, "Maria: The Potter of San Ildefonso" in 1948.  Richard Spivey also wrote a book on her entitled, "Maria."  Both were essential additions to the collector knowledge of this vital potter. Maria was also the subject of numerous museum exhibitions.  Her pottery can be found around the world in various museum permanent collections.  The highly polished surface of her black pottery is distinctive, and yet it helped to change the economic course of San Ildefonso pottery. Today, her descendants Barbara Gonzales, Cavan Gonzales and Marvin Martinez all continue her legacy.  Her grandson, Tony Da, learned to make pottery from Maria but had a short career.

Maria Martinez Signatures