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Art HERstory: Maria Montoya Martinez


Maria Martinez

We’ve given you clothing, paintings, unmentionables, and photographs. Now, we’re venturing into the world of the sculpted arts for this installment of Art HERstory. I chose to feature this week’s leading lady thanks to a little inspiration from the movie “Avatar.” If you have any conscious knowledge of American history then you already know the parallels between the film and the evacuation/slaughtering of Native Americans. Maria Antonia Montoya was a great Native American pottery and ceramic artist, and here is my thank you to Native Americans via a feature on Maria.

The color contrast on this piece is breathtaking!

The color contrast on this piece is breathtaking!

Maria’s life began in the San Ildefonso Pueblo located 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pueblos are traditional Native American communities that have their own traditions and beliefs. Maria’s pueblo had been inhabited since 1300 AD and by her birth in 1881, the culture and life of the pueblo had changed. One thing that remained was the art of pottery making.

Maria Martinez

Maria became fascinated with the art early on. She would watch her aunts sculpt pots, bowls, and other types of vesicles after her chores were completed for the day. Unfortunately, pottery making wasn’t an everyday task thanks to the Anglo influences on her pueblo community. The art-form was losing its purpose and was slowly dying away. Thankfully, Maria’s passion kept it alive.

It must have taken Maria a long time to get the detail on this piece right. The top pattern looks like feathers to me.

It must have taken Maria a long time to get the detail on this piece right. The top pattern looks like feathers to me.

Maria’s pieces evolved once she married Julian Martinez. The two collaborated on much of the pottery during their marriage together. It was a more of a tag team effort. Maria would sculpt and Julian would paint the designs on the pots. A labor of love. So cute.

Maria Martinez

The couple’s pottery techniques changed again. The duo gained success and praise for their black-on-black pieces. They invented a technique that resulted in black matte pieces with glossy accents. Its absolutely gorgeous!

Maria Martinez

Maria went on to make pottery with Julian and later taught other members of her family how to create. She single handedly kept pottery making alive in her pueblo and spread it to the mainstream. After Julian’s death in 1943, Maria began to work with her daughter-in-law Santana and in 1956 Maria’s son, Popovi Da, joined in as well. Popovi is credited with marketing Maria’s work, building a pottery store on the pueblo, and sending Maria out to workshops.

Maria Martinez

Since her death in 1980, Maria has inspired many. Other family members and people of San Ildefonso have begun to make pottery in her honor. Although it too is beautiful, the pottery made by Maria is becoming increasingly more collectible and harder to find.


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