Of Tewa heritage of the San Idelfonso Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, Maria Martinez became world renowned for her black on black pottery. Maria took herself and San Ildefonso to worldwide recognition with her pottery work.
With the historical excavation of 1908 and 1909 by Dr. Edgar Lee Hewitt just north of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, the crew uncovered some prehistoric pottery which was different than the current San Ildefonso style. Dr. Hewitt asked Maria if she could re-create the style of the pottery they found, and she did. Maria formed and polished the elegant vessels and her husband, Julian, applied the painted decoration. As Maria and Julian developed the new black on black style, it created a rush of popularity not seen before, and created an explosion in San Ildefonso Pueblo pottery craft. The couple gained an international reputation for their work with matte black decorations on polished black surfaces. This process involved burying the unfinished pot in a fire in the ground, and covered tightly with sheep or cow dung for fuel. The amount of air reaching the pottery determined whether the clay remained red or instead, turned completely black. In part, the national popularity of their pottery can be attributed to the ease with which the smooth, geometric shapes matched the art deco style of design of the 1930s and 1940s.
Maria left us a great history and many relatives who continued her tradition. Many of her children and grandchildren are excellent potters continuing the San Ildefonso tradition of black on black pottery.