Early San Ildefonso Pottery Innovators
A Brief History: In 1900, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, was a small village with only 30 households. Pueblo pottery production had significantly declined in its creation for practical purposes, and in the 1910 census, there were only eight women who were potters by occupation. Around this time, ethnographers such as Kenneth Chapman and Edgar Hewitt began to encourage potters at San Ildefonso and other pueblos to revive this dying art form. Those who were already making pottery were urged to examine prehistoric vessels and restore this imagery.
These designs, along with imagery form other historic pottery, were used as a foundation for this revival by Pueblo pottery innovators.
Around 1919-1920, Maria Martinez and her husband Julian Martinez discovered/invented the now-classic style of black-on-black pottery. Despite the folklore that it was a secretive process, they quickly shared the information about how to make this style of pottery, and it revolutionized the economy and life of the Pueblo. It was an exciting time for potters. They had an entirely new process for making pottery, new designs, further information, and a newly developing market for their folk art pottery in places such as Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. It was in this period of the 1920s to about 1940 that the potters were unencumbered by “tradition” and looked beyond the Pueblos for inspiration. The result was amazing originality in the designs and shapes of their pottery.
In the Pueblos at this time, women would typically make and polish the pottery, while the men would paint the designs on the surface. While Maria and Julian excelled as potters and promoters and eventually became world-famous, other potters such as Susana Aguilar, Ramona Gonzales, and Tonita Roybal were all vital to the rapidly changing pottery movement. In the 1930’s the pottery of San Ildefonso would change further as a few men married women from other Pueblos. These women brought a new dimension to work already being created. Rose Gonzales (San Juan), Rosalie Aguilar (Picuris), and Juanita Gonzales(Taos) were among the first potters to begin carving into the clay to create their designs instead of painting imagery on the surface. They added another dimension to what could be done with the clay and created a stylistic change that still reverberates through the pottery market.
While there was a vibrancy to this period of work, it did not last long. The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II reduced the demand for pottery, which had been growing throughout the 1920s. Many of these remarkable potters and painters passed away by the late 1940s, and many of their original shapes and designs disappeared from memory. It would be the next generation of potters starting in the 1950s, and especially the 1960’s, who would look to Maria Martinez, the one constant for nearly a century, as the bridge between the first pottery revival and arrival of Pueblo pottery as fine art. But for this next generation, the innovation and experimentation of their parents and grandparents would now be viewed as the traditions of the past.
Potters on the page listed alphabetically:
| Juanita Pena
| Rose Gonzales
|Anna Montoya Martinez
| Isabel Montoya Atencio
| Isabel Pena
|Desideria Montoya Sanchez
Tonita Roybal (1892-1945) & Juan Cruz Roybal (1896-1990)
Juan Cruz and Tonita Roybal are working on their pottery. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 004032.
Tonita Roybal has been called “One of the finest potters of the twentieth century.” She learned to make pottery from her mother, Dominguita Pino Martinez (1860-1948). Her brother, Cresencio Martinez (1879-1918), married Anna Montoya(Maria’s sister). She was also an aunt to Santana Roybal, who later married Adam Martinez (Maria’s son). Tonita was married twice. Her first husband was Alfredo Montoya (1890-1913), and then in 1916, she married Juan Cruz Roybal. Among her descendants are JD Roybal (painter) and Margaret Lou Roybal-Gutierrez (potter).
Tonita began making pottery in 1909. Starting in 1917, Juan started to paint some of her pottery, and after 1930 he painted a majority of the pieces. When Tonita made the pottery and did the painting, these pieces were signed, “Tonita.” When she made the vessel, and Juan painted it, then they were signed, “Tonita and Juan.” Kenneth Chapman commented in a letter on the quality and value of her work at the time, “Tonita Roybal does equally fine work, and I may be able to get just what you want from her if Maria does not get back to work soon. Tonita won first prize for her oldfashioned red San Ildefonso ware, with decorations in black (black-on-red pottery). Her husband, Juan Cruz, runs Julian a close second in decorating pottery. She put a price of $12.00 each on jars 8″ in diameter and got it! It is hard on some of us poor ethnologists who have been encouraging it, but it has made an incredible difference in San Ildefonso life, and we are strong for it”.
Tonita’s mother was famous for her “black-on-red” style of pottery, and this was a style that Tonita quickly mastered. After 1920 and the advent of black-on-black pottery, Tonita invented the red-on-red technique with the white outlines. Both Tonita and Juan were fascinated by prehistoric pottery. Those designs and their influences can often be seen in their work. After 1913 she began, “combining the layout of Nampeyo’s Sikyatki Revival style with elements from Acoma and elsewhere.” By 1925 Tonita was at the peak of her career. Her early death in 1945 left only a small amount of creative and innovative work that still inspires us with its unique use of varied Native designs from prehistoric to regional influence.
Susana Martinez Aguilar (1876-1947)
Susana Aguilar with her pottery. The bowls by her feet are a distinctive early style of white-on-red ware. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 043608.
Susana was the wife of Ignacio Aguilar (1872-1945). She began making pottery in the 1890s and later taught her daughter-in-law Rosalie Aguilar how to make pottery. She had been making more traditional utilitarian San Ildefonso pottery, as can be seen in the photograph to the above right. However, she began making black-on-black, polychrome, and red-on-red style pottery in the 1920s. In 1925 she began to sign her pottery. Jonathan Batkin wrote of her pottery, “Susana was a skilled potter whose work has been unfairly overlooked by many. Her pots are among the most finely made of the 1920s and 1930s.”. While she made the vessels and decorated some of them, most were painted by her husband and son Joe Aguilar.
Rosalie Simbola Aguilar (1898-1946) & Joe Aguilar (1898-1965)
Rosalie Aguilar with carved and painted pottery. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 004140.
Rosalie was originally from Picuris Pueblo and married Joe Aguilar in 1922. Together they had 11 children. She learned to make pottery from her mother-in-law Susana, who was a very accomplished potter. Joe painted most of their pieces of pottery. In the 1930’s she was among the first, along with Rose Gonzales (1909-1989) to begin carving pottery. Their carving style was very similar in style with a cameo, or very shallow carving form of appearance.
Ramona Sanchez Gonzales (1885-1934)
Ramona Gonzales, with her husband, Juan Gonzales, and daughter Marie. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 003774.
Ramona Gonzales was one of the early potters, along with Maria Martinez, to help promote the black-on-black pottery of San Ildefonso pueblo. She was the step-mother of Blue Corn & Lorenzo Gonzales and the mother-in-law of Rose Gonzales, whom she taught to make pottery. Her innovative pottery included not only black-on-black ware but also more intricate polychrome and red-on-red painted vessels. Her work is among the most difficult to find, as she signed her pieces for such a short time before her passing in 1934. Her innovative style continues in her descendants, such as Tse-Pe Gonzales (1940-2000) and Russell Sanchez.
Juanita Gonzales (1909-1988) & Louis “Wo-Peen” Gonzales (1907-1990)
Juanita Gonzales was originally from Taos Pueblo. She married Louis “Wo-Peen” Gonzales (1907-1990), who was a son of Juan and Philomena Gonzales. His Tewa name, “Wo-Peen,” means Medicine Mountain. She met him in a hospital after he lost his arm in a hunting accident. Louis was a gifted artist and attended the San Ildefonso School of painters in the 1920s. After he lost his right arm in an accident, he taught himself to paint again with his left hand.
Juanita learned to make pottery from her sister-in-law, Rose Gonzales (1909-1989). Rose is credited with beginning the carved pottery style at San Ildefonso in the early 1930s. The carved pottery by Juanita has a very similar style of carving and imagery, as with Rose’s work. While Juanita made the vessels, she also did the carving, while Louis did the painting of any designs.
Rose Gonzales (1900 -1989)
Rose Gonzales was one of the early innovators of deeply carved pottery at San Ildefonso pueblo in the 1930s. She was originally from San Juan Pueblo and married Robert Gonzales in 1920. Her carved pottery was a cameo in appearance as it is not deep and ends on the sharp edge of her pottery.
Juanita Montoya Pena (1900 -1987) & Tony Pena (1898-1984)
Juanita Pena is holding her daughter. Photo by Harold Kellog, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 047580.
Juanita Pena has been an enigma in San Ildefonso pottery. Her work can be found in numerous books, and a variety of photos of her are found in various archives, yet there is almost no printed information on her life or family. However, the pottery created by Juanita and Tony was outstanding in both form and design. They began with black-on-black ware, and in the 1930s, their work evolved into intricately carved designs. Juanita was related to Martina Vigil Montoya (1856-1916) & Florentino Montoya (1858-1918) (who were known for their polychrome pottery). Tony was related to Encarnacion Pena (Soqueen), who was famous as a traditional style painter and part of the San Ildefonso school of painters. They had at least four children, Ignacio (b. 1920) and Maria Susanita (b. 1925), Rosenita (b. 1926), and Philomena (b. 1928), but none continued the pottery-making tradition. They continued to make pottery into the 1950s, but then they stopped as they both were very involved in religious and Kiva activities at the Pueblo, which required full-time participation.
Maximiliana “Anna” Montoya Martinez (1885-1955)
Maria Martinez, left, and her sister Anna Montoya, right. Photo by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), 003791.
Anna Montoya was the eldest sister of noted potter Maria Martinez (1887-1980). She was married to Cresencio Martinez(1879-1918). After the discovery of the process of making black-on-black pottery, Anna quickly adopted the style of her work. Cresencio painted many of their early polychrome pieces, but after he died in 1918, Anna painted her pieces. She became an accomplished painter, and Maria noted that “everyone bothered Anna to put designs” on their pottery.
Desideria Montoya Sanchez (1889-1982)
Desideria was a sister of noted potter Maria Martinez. She often worked with her husband, Donicio, who painted some of her pottery. Her children Juanita Roybal, Pilar Aguilar, and Santiago Sanchez, did not continue in the pottery-making tradition. However, Santiago’s wife, Angelita Sanchez, is a well-known potter. She also created elegant black-on-black pottery, but her forms and painted designs are distinctly different from those of Maria & Julian.
Juanita Montoya Vigil (1898 -1933)
Juanita Montoya Vigil was a daughter of Reyes Pena and Tomas Montoya and the youngest sister of Maria Martinez, and a sister of Desideria Sanchez (1889-1982), Clara Montoya (1909-1997) and Maximilliana “Anna” Martinez (1885-1955). She was married to Romando Vigil, who was a famous painter. She was the mother of Carmelita Dunlap (b. 1925) and Albert Vigil (b. 1927).
There is no yet known authentically documented pieces of her pottery in public collections. Her pieces are often misattributed and actually work by Juanita Gonzales or Juanita Pena.
Check out the online article, “In Search of Juanita Montoya Vigil (1898-1933), for a new look into her pottery.
Isabel Pena (ca. 1881 -1960)
Isabel Pena was a granddaughter of Cipriana Pena and a daughter of Tonita Pena (ca 1847-1910), who was known for making large storage vessels. Isabel was the wife of Pasqual Martinez. Her daughters Teresita Martinez and Petronella Martinez, both were known for making pottery. Isabel’s descendants continue to make classic style pottery, including her great-grandson Elvis Torres.
Isabel Montoya Atencio (1890-1996)
Isabel Montoya was the daughter of Nicolasa Montoya (the aunt who taught Maria Martinez to make pottery). She was a sister of Rayita Montoya, Santana Montoya, and Alfredo Montoya (the first husband of Tonita Roybal). Among her children, Gilbert Atencio is known primarily for his paintings. Her daughters Helen Gutierrez and Angelita Sanchez are both well-known potters.
Teresita Martinez (1917-1943)
Teresita Matinez was the great-granddaughter of Cipriana Pena and a granddaughter of Tonita Pena (ca 1847-1910), who was known for making large storage vessels. She was the daughter of Isabel Pena and a sister of Petronella Martinez. She worked on pottery with her mother and carved most of her pottery. She also made pieces with her husband, Juan, whom she married in 1933.
Rayita Gonzales (1902-1982)
Rayita Gonzales was a sister of Louis “Wo-Peen” Gonzales. Her sister, Raymoncita Gonzales, was also a well-known potter. She is known for her deeply carved pottery from the 1930s. Her parents were Filomena and Juan Gonzales.
Simona Pena Montoya Naranjo (1902-1982)
Simona Pena Montoya Naranjo (1902-82) was the daughter of Juan and Isabelita Pena. She did not make much pottery and in the 1920s, signed her pottery, “Simona M.” She was married again in the 1930s, and her last name was then Naranjo