I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty. Georgia O'Keeffe
MARIA MARTINEZ, 1887-1980
"As we move forward in the discussion of women’s role in the ceramic field,
we recognize the legacy of Maria Martinez, who revitalized the lost art form
of Native American pottery making. Her work, born from an ancient tradition, exhibits the life of a people that once populated most of our country. Today, Maria and other Native American potter's work can be seen in museums worldwide.
Maria was schooled only to the fourth grade. She was born in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, a Tewa-speaking community on the eastern bank of the Río Grande about 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe. Archaeologists believe that this village existed at that location since the 1300’s and was populated by descendants of those who once inhabited the canyons and cliffs of the Pajarito Plateau.
"In 1880, a Smithsonian Institution collecting expedition headed by James Stevenson visited San Ildefonso, but Stevenson found very little pottery. He noticed that these people were spending most of their time in subsistence farming and almost totally abandoned the manufacture of pottery making. San Ildefonso had become increasingly depopulated since the arrival of the Spanish and then again when the United States government took over. By 1900, only 138 people lived in the pueblo.
"Tin and enamel pots and pails replaced the pueblo’s ceramic tradition of finely painted black-on-cream ware. A cultural revival would soon be sparked by Martinez’s deep love for clay.
"Maria’s husband Julian gathered, hauled, and purified her clay before she began mixing it. By 1919, Maria began producing the black-on-black pottery that would make her world-famous. Although black ware had been found at archaeological sites, the firing method that produced it had been lost. The couple began experiments to recreate the polychrome ware that was the most common form of pottery found on the plateau. They revived a unique Tewa way of firing at zero oxidation that had gone out of existence. At a certain point in the firing they smothered the pot with cow dung and let it bake and smoke for several hours.
"Maria demonstrated pottery making at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, where she sold her pots for 50 cents or a dollar. Today, her pots garner more than a quarter of a million dollars at auction. Maria also demonstrated her pottery making at the San Diego World's Fair in 1915. She received the Best of Show at the Century of Progress; Chicago World's Fair in 1933 and was invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1939 she made her pottery at the San Francisco World's Fair. Her work was included in two European tours between 1955 and 1961.
from Jayne Shatz
|Feather bowl, $6900|
"San Ildefonso Pueblo is a quiet community located 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Inhabited since A.D. 1300, the pueblo saw many changes that resulted in a rich culture, in which today ancient traditions mix with Spanish festivals and Anglo conveniences.
Maria Antonia Montoya was probably born in the year 1887 and died in 1980.
"All her life she lived in the pueblo and eagerly shared with visitors and her neighbors and family her passion in being a potter.
"Excavations of 1908 and 1909, led by Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett (who was also the director of the Museum of New Mexico), produced examples of many pre-historic pottery techniques. Dr. Hewett asked Maria to replicate these pieces in the same polychrome form they had been found.
"It was then that Maria and her husband, Julian (who painted the designs on the pottery after Maria shaped them), began an artistic collaboration that would last throughout their lives together.
"Maria and Julian refined their pottery techniques and were asked to demonstrate their craft at several expositions, including the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the 1914 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, and the 1934 Chicago World's fair. Part of their success came from their innovations in the style of black-on-black ware
"The process for the creation of this ware begins with a batch of clay that is mixed and has set for a few days, a "pancake" of clay is formed and pressed into a puki, beginning the process of building a pot. The puki is a bowl-shaped form that supports the bottom of the pot as it is being built. Most commonly, pots are formed with a coil technique, in which long snake-shaped coils are circled around the base of the pot and blended together to create the walls of the vessel. A potter's wheel is not used in traditional pueblo pottery making. When the height and the amount of clay are just right, the walls of the pot are smoothed and shaped into curves with pieces of gourd, called kajepes.
"The pot is left to partially dry after the form is completed. In its semi-dried state, the pot is ready to be scraped, which refines the shape and removes any irregularity. Then the pot is sanded with sandpaper to rid it of any grit. The red slip is applied next, and the pot must be burnished with a stone before the slip dries completely. This step is most critical for the glossy nature of the black wares.
"A decoration is painted onto the polished surface, resulting in matte areas once the piece is fired.
"Traditionally the men of the pueblo do the painting, but women were taught the process and painted during the times that the men had left the pueblo for work. Julian replicated and was inspired by many pre-historic designs. He was fond of many motifs, using ancient symbols in new combinations. He often painted the avanyu, the horned water serpent, which he saw as a symbol for the rush of water after a hard rain, and as a metaphor for the pueblo itself.
"Black wares become so in the firing process. This labor-intensive task is done after many pots have been made, to maximize efficiency. Wood and dried cow manure are piled around an iron grill, upon which the pottery has been carefully stacked. The pile is lit and left to burn for a specified amount of time, until the fire has reached its maximum heat. At this time the fire is smothered with ash or fresh manure, producing a smoke-filled reducing atmosphere that turns the pots black. Variations in the process can produce pottery with black areas and red areas, which are also popular.
"For many years, Maria and Julian produced their pottery together amid raising a family and carrying out traditional duties for the pueblo. Their children were taught the importance of the craft, and they participated in various ways. After Julian's death in 1943, Maria began working with her daughter-in-law Santana. Santana provided the painted decoration that was her father-in-law's legacy. After 1956, Maria also worked with her son Popovi Da. It was Popovi who helped market her work, built a shop at the pueblo, and spoke about the pottery tradition of San Ildefonso at lectures across the country.
"One of the family's most innovative potters is Maria's grandson Tony Da. Tony combined sculptural techniques with traditional forms to create unique forms. Due to a motorcycle accident, Tony no longer makes pottery, but he continues to work as a painter. Many other family members and people from San Ildefonso continue to make pottery, carrying on the tradition so openly shared by Maria.
"Although you may see similar styles of the black on black pottery in pueblo art, remember the true artist who reintroduced it in modern times- Maria Martinez .
by Eileen Richardson