(1884 - 1980)
Of Tewa heritage from the the San Ildefonso Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, Maria Martinez became world-renowned for her black-on-black pottery.
Learning to make pots as a child from her aunt, Tia Nicolasa, and beginning with clay dishes she made for her playhouse, Maria became known as a potter among her peers. In 1908, Dr. Edgar Hewett, a New Mexico archaeologist and director of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, excavated some 17th century black pottery shards and, seeking to revive this type of pottery, Hewett was led to Maria. Through trial and error, Maria rediscovered the art of making black pottery. She found that by smothering a cool fire with dried cow manure, the smoke became trapped. By using a special type of paint on top of a burnished surface, in combination with trapping the smoke and the low temperature of the fire, a red-clay-pot turned black.
Maria Martinez, who made but never painted the pottery, collaborated with her husband, Julian Martinez. Julian not only assisted in the gathering of the clay and the building the fire but, most importantly, in the painting of the motif itself on the pottery. Julian painted Maria's pottery until his death in 1943. During the early years of pottery making, Julian had broken away from farming to become a janitor at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. It was here that he and Maria studied the pottery in the display cases, observing form, motif and technique.
Maria was always deeply connected to her pueblo of San Ildefonso. She participated in the traditional life of a tribal member, partaking in tribal ceremonies and religious activities. Although she was successful in Santa Fe at selling her pottery, she preferred living in her ancestral home. Maria was very unselfish with her talent. She gave pottery lessons to other women in her village as well as to potters living in neighboring pueblos, thereby providing a new source of income to many. After her husband's death, Maria worked with her sons, Popovi Da and Adam, and her daughter-in-law, Santana, continuing her work throughout her life.
Maria Martinez became so admired for her skill that she was invited to the White House four times. She received honorary doctorates from the University of Colorado and New Mexico State University. Maria Martinez is considered one of the most influential Native Americans of the 20th century.