Martinez Family of Potters

Legendary potter, Maria Martinez (1887-1980), was of Tewa heritage from the San Ildefonso Pueblo. She learned to make pots during her youth from her aunt, Nicolasa Montoya. In 1904 at age 17, and already known for her pottery skills, Maria married Julian Martinez, a water-colorist who is credited with the revival of depicting ancient pueblo mythological creatures, but was also well known for his masterful use of color and technical skills.

On the afternoon of their wedding nuptials, they boarded a train for the St. Louis World’s Fair where Maria demonstrated her pottery making skills and Julian performed traditional dances with others from their pueblo. After excavating pottery shards in 1908 near the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Dr. Edward Hewett, an archaeologist and Director at the Santa Fe Laboratory of Anthropology, sought someone to revive this type of pottery which led him to Maria.

As was customary, husbands assisted with the heavier aspects of pottery production including digging the clay, drying, crushing and refining it as well as the painting. And thus began the collaborative work of Maria & Julian Martinez. Together they were a formidable team – revivalists, innovators, and pueblo community oriented. The black-on-black technique, shiny and matte black surfaces, which they developed, garnered them legendary status.

Also customary was sharing their craft and knowledge with community and family. After Julian’s passing in 1943, Maria’s oldest son, Adam, took on his father’s role of the arduous clay aspects and his wife, Santana, assumed the painting aspects. Working alongside and assisting Maria, both honed their skills and later became well known potters in their own right.

In 1950, another of Maria’s sons, Popovi Da, who had been honing his skills as a water-colorist in the same style as that of his father, began to work alongside his mother, brother and sister-in-law. By 1956, Popovi became Maria’s full partner and Adam and Santana embarked upon their own professional pottery endeavors.

Martinez Family of Potters