Maria Martinez – Native American pottery maker (1887?-1980)
Maria Martinez, born Maria Antonia Montoya, of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, just outside of Santa Fe, NM, can be thanked for her successful efforts in reintroducing the craft of pottery to her people both as a means of creative expression and culture preservation.
The craft of Pottery making was fading away by the time Martinez was a young child. Women of the pueblo no longer needed to make functional pottery for their families because they had access to cheap tins and enamelware. Despite the waning popularity in the craft Martinez still loved to watch her aunt make pottery and over time developed a local reputation for her skills in pottery making the.
In 1908 the discovery of some ancient pottery pieces were found at an excavation site close to San Ildefonso Pueblo. Archeologist and museum director, Dr Edgar Lee Hewett, looking to commission some replicas of the ancient pottery pieces, asked Martinez for her expertise in reproducing similar pieces for his museum.
From this request began a husband wife collaboration that would last a lifetime. According to the Pueblo tradition Maria Martinez, the wife, would collect her materials, form the vessels and fire the clay. While her husband, Julian, would paint the vessels. The Martinezs were not the first in the region to create the popular black stoneware, but they did invent a technique of their own that would allow them to have both matt and glossy black finishes on the pottery. This new style would make them famous around the world and would grow into a strong family business.
Maria and Julian Martinez collaborated together until Julian’s death in 1948. Afterwards Maria worked closely with her son and daughter-in-law to continue the family business. Her Daughter-in-lay would help with the painting and firing of the pottery while her son would work on selling and marketing his mother’s work. Throughout her career Martinez would graciously share her knowledge with anyone wanting to learn and loved to talk with visitors.
Martinez passed away in 1980 and today her work can be seen in museums around the world. I was fortunate to have seen her work first hand at least twice to my knowledge. Once in the Denver Art Museum and another time in the McNay house in San Antonio, TX.
You can learn more about Maria Martinez via her official website.