Tony Da

Tony Da was born in 1940 to a family of famous San Ildefonso potters, destined to continue his family’s legacy. His grandparents, Maria and Julian Martinez, created the now famous black-on-black pottery in the early 1900’s, breaking away from the traditional polychrome designs. Tony’s father, Popovi Da, began assisting his mother Maria making pottery after his father, Julian, passed away in 1943. By the 1950’s, Popovi started infusing his own ideas and styles in pottery and reinitiated some of the painted polychrome symbolism from the start of the century, and experimented with inlaying turquoise into pottery. Tony would help his father elaborate on these exploratory methods throughout his career. In his early years as a student, Da was drawn to jewelry making and painting, but after serving in the Navy he returned to San Ildefonso in 1964 to apprentice himself to his grandmother. Drawing on his experience of both jewelry making and painting, Tony first established himself with his work in two-tone black-and-sienna style that his father Popovi introduced. He then moved on to setting turquoise into some of his creations, as well as, fetishes. Tony Da is known as the first Pueblo potter to make extensive use of turquoise and stone inlay in pottery. He moved on to create enchanting combinations of clay and silver, and pottery inlaid with heishi beads. He was soon recognized as a pioneer in incising designs into pottery surfaces, linking expertly etched images with inlay, and sienna or two-tone finishes to create works with novel effects. Utilizing symbolism in his work, Avanyu the water serpent is often seen as a subject of his compositions, as is a buffalo with heartline or motifs inspired by the prehistoric Mimbres culture-including the feather motif popularized by his grandfather. Three years after apprenticing with Maria, Tony was featured alongside his grandmother and father in an exhibition titled, “Three-Generation Show” honoring the pottery art of the Martinez-Da families in Washington, D.C. Ever since, Tony Da’s inspired, innovative body of work has exerted an enormous impact on the style of pueblo ceramics. With clear vision and distinct abilities, Da made his own unique mark upon the foundation provided by his predecessors. He was a gifted innovator whose work signaled changes in mainstream pueblo ceramics. After surviving a motorcycle accident in 1992, Tony was not able to continue making pottery, and instead expressed himself through painting. With the affluent artistic creation left to us by his short career in painiting, it is hard not to wonder what he would have done had he been able to create until the day he passed in 2008.

Tony Da