San Ildefonso Potters Maria and Julian Martinez

San Ildefonso Potters Maria and Julian Martinez Photograph Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors Photo Archive

Maria Martinez is considered one of the most famous of all the pueblo potters. She learned to make pottery from her aunt Nicolasa. By the age of thirteen Maria had acquired exceptional skill in making pottery. She married her husband Julian in 1904, he was an acknowledged painter. They spent their honeymoon demonstrating pottery at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, this was the first of many exhibitions they attended.

In 1907 Julian was hired by Dr. Edgar Hewett the Director of the School of American Research in Santa Fe, NM to help with an archaeological excavation on the Pajarito Plateau. Dr. Hewett encouraged Maria to make replicas of the old polychrome pots that were found. The painted designs were in black and orange on a cream slip. Julian spent a lot of time searching for new design ideas by studying ancient pottery collections at the Museum of New Mexico. He was a great innovator and experimented with new paints, clays, and techniques.  His experiments led him to the invention of the now famous matte-black-on-polished-black pottery. By 1921 Julian had perfected the process and the black-on-black pottery became extremely popular. Julian’s Avanyu (water serpent) and feather designs were also very popular (Schaaff, 2000).

Maria and Julian discovered how to make the now famous black-on-black pottery in 1918. Maria skillfully made the pots and Julian did the painting and design. Their work was shown at exhibitions and World Fairs. At the 1925 New York World’s Fair they won Best of Show and eight years later won again the Best of Show, this time at the Chicago World’s Fair. Together Maria and Julian were key figures in leading a pottery and cultural heritage revival, not only in their pueblo of San Ildefonso but as well as other pueblos (Schaaff 2000).

Their four sons were also taught the art of pottery making. After Julian’s death in 1943 Maria began working with her daughter-in-law Santana. It was after 1956 that she worked with her son Popovi Da. Signatures on Maria’s pottery vary depending on who she was working with at the time. Pieces made by Maria and Julian from 1918 to 1923 are unsigned. By 1923 Maria began signing her name “Marie.” From 1925 until Julian’s death the signature on their pots was “Marie + Julian. Pottery made from 1943-1954 are signed “Marie + Santana or Maria + Santana.” When her son began working with his mother 1923-1971 they would cosign the pieces “Maria/Popovi.” In 1959 Popovi had an idea of adding the month and the year of firing to the pots along with the signature. The reason for this was to distinguish authentic Maria pieces from others who had signed her name. Maria also made smaller pieces on her own, which were always plain, polished, undecorated pieces, but were well made; these pieces were signed “Maria Poveka” (Spivey, 1989).


Scaaf, Gregory. Pueblo Indian Pottery: 750 Artist Biographies. Santa F, NM: CIAC Press. 2000.

Spivey, Richard L. Maria. 2nd Edition. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press. 1989.

To Do List

It is a wonderful feeling when you have a list of jobs that need to be done and you can cross some of them off your list! That is exactly what I did this last week; I crossed off a few items from my list at the museum. Inventory sheets for the vessels in the Mezzanine level…printed and filed…DONE! Photographs of these vessels…printed and filed…DONE! Labels for these vessels…printed and displayed be each vessel…DONE!  San Juan Revival information for flip book…DONE!

I hope you can cross some things off your to do list. Best of Luck! Happy Easter and God Bless.

Spring Break Trip to New Mexico

On a snowy Friday, March morning, I set out on my journey to visit the Museum of Indian Arts & Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

Julia Clifton, Curator of Archaeological Research Colletion

Julia Clifton is the Curator of Archaeological Research Collections in Santa Fe. The state’s repository facility is off site from the museum. The research center conducts archaeological research projects throughout the state of New Mexico. Their mission is to identify, interpret, and share information about prehistoric and historic sites across the state. The office serves state agencies and private organizations that need archaeological studies performed as part of their development projects. In addition, they provide ethnographic and historical research services and have an award-winning education outreach program.

Julia explained the process of receiving artifacts that are brought in from a field site. I was
taken on a tour of the facility: storage rooms, work rooms, and laboratory where radiocarbon dating is conducted. I was privileged to have the innovative carbon dating process that is conducted by Dr. Marvin Rowe explained to me. I found this to be very fascinating and I would say the best part of the visit.


Collection of artifacts from field sites

Dr. Marvin Rowe

Explanation of carbon dating process

I have a complete journey of a vessel from a field site to the museum. I am very fortunate to have meet several people who work at the Laboratory of Anthropology, they do great work and are very dedicated to the research they conduct.

Collections Management Specialists, Amy Cisneros and Intern

At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque I had the privilege of having Amy Cisneros the Collections Management Specialist be my tour guide of the center. Amy has worked for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for fifteen years. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is the place to discover the history, culture, and art of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico. The museum has a permanent exhibit, “We Are of This Place: The Pueblo Story,” this exhibit highlights the Pueblo’s legacy of resilience, telling their story in the words and voices of the Pueblo people. The design of the exhibits is inspired by traditions that have been passed down for generations.

No more flip books… kiosk instead

In the South Gallery, they have rotating exhibits. Currently on exhibit is contemporary painter Marla Allison of Laguna Pueblo.

Contemporary Painter Marla Alison Laguna Pueblo

I highly recommend a trip to visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Marla Allison’s exhibition will be on display until June. You can have breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Pueblo Harvest Café located inside the cultural center.

Pottery Times

The period names in classifying pottery have very little to do with the pottery itself. Instead the names refer to cultural changes based on migration and developments in agricultural techniques and architecture.

  • Basketmaker II          50 B.C.-A.D. 450
  • Baskemaker III           A.D. 450-700
  • Pueblo I                      700-900
  • Pueblo II                     900-1100
  • Pueblo III                    1100-1300
  • Pueblo IV                    1300-1600
  • Historic                       1600-1880
  • Modern                       1880-1950
  • Contemporary            1950-Present

The museum has vessels from Pueblo III, Pueblo IV, Historic, and Modern eras. Our oldest artifact on exhibit is the Western Mesa Verde bowl, the estimated date is c. 1250 to 1350.

After 1600 pottery became less important to the native economy so smaller quantities were made. Pottery from the Historic period are the rarest of all. The museum has five vessels during this date range of 1600-1880. Stop in for a visit and see if you can find these five pots that are on display in the Mezzanine Level.


Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

Who Signed It?

The signature by potters on their vessels is almost universal today. Before 1940 many potters did not speak English, and very few wrote it. If a potter’s name was written on the bottom of an old pot it was more than likely written by the trader who sold it or by the buyer. Pots that were made from the 1930s to the 1950s had crude signature’s that dealers often call “graffito” (An ancient drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface.) Acoma potters once believed that signing their work was an inappropriate expression of ego. Potter Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso began signing her pottery in the mid-1920s. Santa Clara, Acoma, and Laguna followed soon after.

Bottom collectors buy pots for the signature on the vessel rather than for the pot itself. Golden Bottoms are pots that have been signed by the following famous potters:  Maria & Julian Martinez, Fannie Nampeyo, Lucy Lewis, Lela & Van Gutierrez, Rose Gonzales, and Marie Chino (Hayes & Blom, 1996). The Luther Bean Museum has two Golden Bottoms! These pots are by potters Maria & Julian Martinez and Lela & Van Gutierrez. I invite you to stop by this Spring Break and see the wonderful collection of artifacts on display. Enjoy.


Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

Stone Kiva

Katyete or Ko-Chits (Cochiti) Pueblo “The Stone Kiva” are located in north-central New Mexico; 25 miles southwest of Santa Fe. The pueblo’s of the Cochiti and Santo Dominog are the most northern of the Keresan language. Some experts believe that the Cochiti originally came from Tyuonyi, an Anasazi village located in the Jemez Mountains. Later migrating to their present location (Hayes & Blom, 1996).

Cochiti and Santo Domingo developed their pottery on a parallel course around the 1830s. It was around 1850 that the Cochiti were known for their own distinctive style. Cochiti Polychrome pottery contain images of sacred symbols such as clouds, rain , lightening, serpents, mammals, and even humans (Harlow, 1977). The Cochiti also produce ceramic animal figures such as owls, coyotes, bears, and turtles. One of the most popular figurines originating form the Cochiti is the storyteller, which was made famous by the late Helen Cordero. Today the potters from the Cochiti pueblo make an enormous variety of people and animals as storytellers. (Gibson 2001).


Gibson, Daniel. Pueblos of the Rio Grande: A Visitors Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers. 2001.

Harlow, Francis H. Modern Pueblo Pottery, 1880-1960. Northland Press. 1977

Hayes, Allan and John Blom. Southwestern Pottery Anasazi to Zuni. Northland Publishing. 1996.

The Peaceful People

Hopi. Cylinder. Black and red on yellow clay. 45.5×17.3 cm. (dia.) 1976.10.1

The Hopituh (Hopi) means “the Peaceful People”. The Hopi reservation is located in a remote area northeast of Flagstaff, AZ.They have lived in this area for over a thousand years. The reservation consist of three mesas, which protected the Hopi from invaders. Today there are twelve Hopi villages that are located at the base of the three mesas known as First, Second, and Third Mesa (The Hopi Tribe, 2005).

The villages of the First Mesa have dominated Hopi pottery making since the late 1800s. The Hopi assimilated European pottery forms in their own designs; they imitated the ring based shallow bowls and the flare-rimmed bowls (Allen, 1984).


Allen, Laura Graves. Contemporary Hopi Pottery. Museum of Northern Arizona. 1984.

The Hopi Tribe. History of the Hopi Tribe. 2005. Web accessed March 2017.

Spring Break Visits

This Spring Break I will be taking a road trip to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. My visits will be to the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture/ Laboratory of Anthropology and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. At both locations I will be visiting with the curators and taking a private tour of the center. I am looking forward to my trip and sharing my stories with you.

The Gutierrez Family

The Gutierrez Family are potters from San Clara. The museum collection has a pot by Lela and Van Gutierrez. Tonight has I was doing some research I found that Van’s birth name was Evangelio, he went by Van. The couple had seven children: Cleto, Louis, Juan B., Margaret, Juan, Avelio, and Luther. Their daughter Margaret shared this about her parents and her brother, “They are the first who did the colors. I don’t know how they came up with it–I never asked them. I guess by trial and error they came out with these colors–picking, clays and seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Mom and dad worked together, then Luther painted for her [during and after Van’s death], and after she passed away I took over. After Luther passed away, I signed the pottery by myself. My dad and Luther overlapped with painting.” Maria travels to places like the Grand Canyon, Denver, La Bajada, and Los Alamos to get clay for her pots (Dillingham, 1994).

When I started my journey as an intern “Lela/Van” were just names noted on a piece of paper in the accession folder for a particular vessel. Then I confirmed that they were potters from Santa Clara whose names were Lela and Van Gutierrez. These two potters came to life for me when I actually got to see the pot they had made up close and then I saw their signature on the bottom of the pot…I felt like this pot had a story to share! When I read what Margaret said about her parents and I found Van’s birth name, the Gutierrez family story was started to blossom before me.

Click on the Santa Clara tab to see a picture of the pot that Lela and Van made and signed. I have a photograph posted of Lela and Van on my blog entry titled, “Potters”.


Dillingham, Rick. Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery. The University of New Mexico Press. 1994.

Update on my search for two potters

Last semester, I wrote in one of my blog post that I was searching for two potters whose names are Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. I would like to update you on where I am at in my journey in search of these two potters.

A quick recap…Some of the vessels in the museum have names inscribed on the bottom of the post. My responsibility as an intern is to verify the names on the pots to confirm that indeed they are potters. I was able to verify Tomasita Montoya, Reyecita A. Trujillo, Lela Gutierrez, and Van Gutierrez to be potters. There were two names that I have not been able to verify Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. 

Petra Tafoya. Santa Clara. Ceremonial Wedding Vase. Early 1940s. White, blue, red, and beige on red clay, burnished, on red clay. 23.5×16.3 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor

Dora Cata. San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. Seed Jar. c. early 1940s. Tan, white, and red, partially burnished, on red clay, incised. 9.3×8.1 cm. (dia.) Unknown Donor.

Besides the usual searching the web and looking through many books I have also contacted several people to see if they know these two potters. Something terrific that is taking place is, the people that I have contacted are contacting other people. The librarian at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis, which I met on my museum trip had someone search the Heard Museum’s  Native American Artist Database which has over 35,000+ records. Unfortunately nothing turned up 🙁 !! A gentleman who is the Curator of Ethnology at Santa Clara is also part of the people out there searching for any information on Petra and Doris.

There was considerable intermarriage between Santa Clara and San Juan/Ohkay Owingeh. It is possible that Petra Tafoya is related to the Santa Clara Tafoya’s. There might be a chance that Dora might be related to a Sam Cata.

My journey in search of Dora and Petra continues…I hope that I will be able to one day blog that I found Petra Tafoya and Dora Cata. That will be a GREAT blog!!