Born: 1887 died 1980
Birthplace: San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico
Renowned rescuer of an ancient pottery technique, Maria Martinez was interested in pottery from childhood. She was born of the Native American Tewa tribe. In general, pottery making was in decline during this period in her area, due to the gain of mass produced dishes. However, she was able to learn pottery from her grandmother. She gained early respect for her work.
In 1908, Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, director of the Museum of New Mexico, had seen shards of an unusual black glazed pottery found in the local archeological digs. Since the clay in New Mexico is red, it wasn’t clear how the pottery had been made. However, he wanted to present examples of this work in his museum.
The method of production had been lost; he asked Martinez if she could create reproductions of this black-on-black pottery. Over an extended time Martinez was able to reproduce the method and in so doing preserved the history of an ancient craft.
Her husband, Julian, painted the designs until his death in 1943. Other family members have continued to work with Martinez. Since her death, her work has become valuable to collectors. A signed black pottery bowl was recently sold for $3250 at the San Ildefonso Pueblo.
Awards and honors include:
Exhibitions of her work at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair
Demonstrations of pottery making at the San Diego World’s Fair in 1915.
Best of Show at the Century of Progress, Chicago World’s Fair in 1933
Invitation to the White House by President Theo. Roosevelt
Demonstrations of pottery making at the San Francisco World’s Fair in 1939.
Two European Tours in 1955 and 1961
Martinez obtained an initial grant for the National Endowment for the Arts to fund a Martinez pottery workshop in 1973
Maria passed on her knowledge and skill to many others including her family, women in the pueblo, and students. As a girl she had learned how to become a potter by watching her aunt Nicolasa make pottery. Maria also taught through student observation methods.
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