Native American artist, Maria Montoya Martinez (1887-1980), is one of the world’s most well-known potters. Known for her all black pottery, Maria’s skills and generosity are what make her one of the most influential and honored potters of her time. Born of the Tewa tribe in San Ildefonso Pueblo in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Maria found her passion at an early age. She began watching her aunt, Tia Nicolasa, make pots. At this time, pottery had been replaced with more inexpensive Spanish tinware and Anglo enamelware, and many Pueblo women no longer made their own pottery as it was longer a necessity. Fortunately, this didn’t stop Maria from continuing to practice. By the early 1900’s, Maria was known and recognized as an excellent pottery maker among her peers.
In 1908, Dr. Edgar Hewett, archaeologist and director of a museum in Santa Fe, had discovered prehistoric black pottery shards and pottery techniques during an excavation of an old Pueblo site. It was Maria that he sought after to replicate the prehistoric pieces to display in the museum. This was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration with Maria and her husband, Julian Martinez. Maria would make the pottery while Julian would paint the motifs on the pottery. After experimenting with different techniques, the two refined their skills and developed a process that allowed their black-on-black pottery to stand out from the rest. This process would give dimension to the pottery by painting on a matte finish for the design over the glossy jet black finish of the entire piece. The two worked together until Julian’s death in 1943. Carrying on their father’s tradition with Maria, their two sons, Popovi Da and Adam, and daughter in law, Santana, collaborated with Maria in later years. A timeline of Maria’s pottery can almost be followed by her signature. She has several different signatures throughout her years, ranging from “Marie” to “Marie & Julian” and later to “Marie & Santana” and “Maria/Popovi.”