A new wall case with seven examples of San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery by Maria Martinez from the museum’s collection has been added in the Native American section of the gallery on the second floor devoted to the arts of the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas.
Maria Martinez (1887-1980, born Maria Antonia Montoya) is among the most recognized Native American Pueblo potters to emerge in the 20th century. Of Tewa heritage of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley near Santa Fe, New Mexico, she learned to make pottery at an early age from her aunt, Tia Nicolasa. In 1904, she married Julian Martinez, and the two were a remarkable team—Maria made the pottery and Julian decorated it. In 1918-1919 they developed the highly polished and matte black-on-black style, an innovation which became their signature and made Maria and her family known far beyond New Mexico. After Julian passed away in 1943, Maria continued to make pottery, collaborating first with her daughter-in-law, Santana, who decorated Maria’s pots (Santana herself came from a family of respected potters and painters) and later with her son, Antonio, who in 1948 changed his name to Popovi Da, meaning Red Fox in the Pueblo language Tewa.
Six distinct processes occurred before a Martinez pot was ready to be sold. According to Susan Peterson in The Living Tradition of Maria Martinez, these steps include, “finding and collecting the clay, forming a pot, scraping and sanding the pot to remove surface irregularities, applying the iron-bearing slip and burnishing it to a high sheen with a smooth stone, decorating the pot with another slip, and firing the pot.”
The first step, gathering the clay, was done once a year, usually in October, a dry month, and stored at a constant temperature. When Martinez was ready to begin molding the clay to form a pot, the right amount of clay was brought into the house. A cloth, laid upon a table, held a mound of gray pink sand with a fist hole in the center filled with an equal amount of blue sand. A smaller hole is made in the blue sand and water is poured into the hole. The substances are then kneaded together, picked up within the cloth, washed, and covered with a towel to prevent moisture from escaping while the clay would sit for a day. The pukis is a dry- or fired-clay mold where a round bottom of a new piece may be formed, shaped like a pancake. After squeezing the clay together with her fingers, a wall was pinched up about an inch high from the pancake base. A gourd rib was used in cross-crossing motions to smooth out the wall, making it thick and even. Coiling long tube shapes of clay on the top of the clay wall and then smoothing it out with the gourd gradually increased the pot’s height. After drying, the pot was scraped, sanded, and polished with a small round stone applied to the side of the pot in a consistent, rhythmic, horizontal motion called burnishing. Rubbing the stone parallel with the side of the pot produces a shiny, polished, even look. The pot was finally ready to fire after the decoration, in secondary slip, was painted onto the burnished surface in various traditional designs.
Maria Martinez became so famous for her art that she was invited to the White House four times and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant. She also received honorary doctorates from the University of Colorado and New Mexico State University, was given exhibitions internationally, and is the subject of several books.