Few craft artists, Native American or otherwise, can claim worldwide fame and appreciation, but these accompanied the life of potter Maria Martinez and family of San Ildefonso Pueblo. Through her hard work and generous sharing of her techniques, Maria reintroduced the art of pottery making to her people, providing them with a means of artistic expression and for retaining some aspects of the pueblo way of life.
Marie and Julian Geometric Jar
Not long after her marriage to Julian Martinez, Maria was asked to replicate some pre-historic pottery styles that had been discovered in an archaeological excavation of an ancient pueblo site near San Ildefonso. These 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, who already had a reputation in the pueblo for being an excellent pottery-maker, if she could make full-scale examples for the museum of the polychrome ware. 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 Martinez
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.
Popovi Da Geometric Jar 9/65 Maria Popovi Red Avanyu Jar 12/65 Popovi Feather Plate 10/65
Popovi Da was born April 10, 1922. He was named Antonio Jose Martinez but changed his name to Popovi Da meaning Red Fox in 1948. He attended school at San Ildefonso and then at the Santa Fe Indian School where his teachers included Dorthy Dunn and Geronimo Cruz Montoya. Fellow students at the Santa Fe Indian school included Harrison Begay, Allan Houser, Quincy Tahoma, Pop Chalee, Pablita Velarde and and Andy Tsihnahjinnie. It was here that Popovi developed his painting skills, creating works on paper of animals, geometric designs and abstract symbolism.
Popovi was drafted into the army in 1944 and stationed at Los Alamos to work on the Manhatten Project. Popovi's fine technical skills as a painter made him well suited to work on such a highly skilled project. His wife Anita joined him at Los Alamos and after his discharge from the army they returned to San Ildefonso Pueblo to open the Popovi Da Studio of Indian Arts. Not only did the studio offer San Ildefonso pottery Maria and other San Ildefonso potters, but also contained a museum of some of the finest works by Maria and other important Native American artists.
Maria Popovi Geometric Plate Dated 9/67 Maria Popovi Deer Track Plate c. 1956-65
By 1956 Po became a full partner with Maria in all stages of pottery making. It was Popovi who helped Maria market her work, speaking about the pottery tradition of San Ildefonso at lectures across the country, Popovi began experimenting with polychrome pottery, a departure from the popular black on black pieces and in 1957 won Best in Class Gallup Ceremonial.
Maria/Popovi Polychrome Pot with Geometric Design c. 1960
In 1961 Popovi created a new two-firing technique resulting in the color sienna.The pottery was fired black, then re warmed and fired again without the smoking process.
Maria and Popovi Sienna Avanyu Jar Dec. 1964
Popovi also created a two step firing technique resulting in Black and Sienna on the same vessel.
Popovi Black and Sienna Jar , Dated 12/70
Popovi Da Polished Black and Sienna Twin Spout Avanyu Jar Dated 8/64
Gunmetal ware was also created by Popovi by using a hotter and longer fire creating a beautiful metallic luster. The firing was extremely difficult and required precise timing to obtain the gunmetal finish.
Maria Popovi Gunmetal Miniature Jar Maria Popovi Gunmetal Bowl 1969
In 1962 Popovi began creating pieces on his own and he was the first contemporary pueblo potter to add turquoise to his work, a tradition which his son Tony Da continued. It is little known that Popovi also became an accomplished silver smith and jewelry designer.
Popovi Da Polished Black and Sienna Jar with Turquoise Inlay
Not only was Popovi a highly skilled and accomplished artisan, he was also a ceremonial, religious and governmental leader at San Ildefonso. He served as a member of the New Mexico Arts Commission and a member of the School of American Research Board of Managers. Popovi Da died in 1971. His work continues to be highly sought after by collectors.
Popovi Da Red Feather Wedding Jar
Last Piece Completed by Popovi 1971. Ex Anita Da Collection.
Exhibited Popovi Da Studio/Museum San Ildefonso
Pieces signed Maria/Popovi were made by Maria and decorated by Popovi
Popovi Da Signatures
For more information about Maria Martinez and Family pottery visit Mariapottery.com
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