Red Pottery by Maria Montoya Martinez - Essay Prowess

Red Pottery by Maria Montoya Martinez


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Maria Montoya Martinez was a Tewa Indian of San Ildefonso Pueblo, and learnt on how to make pottery during her childhood days[1]. Her talent in pottery was taken to a notch higher between 1907 and 1909, when an associate of Edger L. Hewett, Kenneth M. Chapman encouraged local potters to recreate shapes of ancient pots which had been excavated near the Pueblo[2]. After this exposure, Maria and her husband, Julian, started a decade of experimentation and this resulted to their first black on black pieces in 1918[3]. Maria used to make pots using the ancient method of hand coiling clay, while her husband used to decorate them. However, as time went by, Maria excelled in the pottery sector, and turned away from the traditional methods to the new burnished black ware. She mastered pottery so well to such an extent that she was molding every world fair until the World War II[4].

Black on red pottery

Maria Martinez mastered the aspect of making this types of pottery when she was learning the craft, despite the fact that the use of these kinds of pots was waning[5]. At this time, the Hispanic and the Pueblo people of the middle and northern Rio Grande Valley were depending on Pueblo ceramics for most of their household storage and cooking needs. She managed to design a number of black on red plates and pots, and this designed made her to gain a self-identity especially due to their uniqueness in the design, shape and sizes[6]. At that type, the railway system had been developed and this had attracted a number of tourists in the area as well as the availability of numerous manufactured goods in the New Mexico. The high influx of tourists boosted Maria`s pottery business especially the black on red pottery.

Black on black ceramic vessel

Black on black ceramic vessel was the initial black on black pottery that made Maria to be broadly known. She started making black on black ceramic vessels in 1919, and it was her first pottery work that she capitalized on[7]. In order to make these vessels, Maria used six different processes, and these processes are not limited to finding and collecting clay, forming the vessel in the designed shape, scraping and sanding the vessel in order to remove surface irregularities, applying the iron bearing slip and burnishing it to a high sheen with a smooth stone, decorating the vessel with another slip, and finally firing the vessel.

There are a number of visual elements that are associated with the black on black ceramic vessels. These elements include: Lots of geometric shapes, the vessel was based on pottery found on an ancestral Pueblo dig site and making of ceramics in Pueblo was perceived as a communal activity.

Native American Baskets

Maria Martinez also focused on making Native American baskets. These baskets were culturally being used for various purposes including storing corn, beans, storing personal items in an organized and clean manner, among others. Maria used to make these baskets in different shapes and sizes in order to suit the needs of the Native American cultures[8]. The shape and sizes of these baskets perfectly resembles those which the cultures have been used to, only that her making was based on clay rather than tree plants. Additionally, the baskets were of different sizes, shapes and decorations in order to meet the needs of the individuals around her.

Wedding Vase

The wedding vase was an artwork that Maria aimed as an aspect of enhancing the culture of the New Mexico especially the marriage ceremonies[9]. Precisely, the shape and design of the wedding vase was symbolic to what wedding means. The handle at the middle of the wedding vase represents that a husband and wife should have during marriage. Additionally, the space between the handle and the two spouts is a representation of the couples` circles of life[10]. The two spouts are two individuals who have been brought together by a common factor, love. The wedding vase is like a jar with two stouts with a handle in between them. Additionally, the vase is black in color, especially due to the fact that it was part of the initial work of pottery that Maria molded when she realized that she is talented in pottery[11].

Black-on-black ceramic plate

This form of pottery was a clear manifestation of the San Ildefonse Publo culture. Precisely, the people of this culture used to serve food on a plate, and this means that the core intention of Maria`s decision to mold this plate was to preserve, honor, and extend the New Mexican culture of feeding on a plate. The ceramic plate was part of the initial works of pottery that Maria focused on soon after realizing that she has a talent in this sector. The ceramic bowl is round with various decorations on the sides[12]. With time, Maria improved these ceramic bowls by adding decorations as well as signatures bearing the dates when they were created.


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National Museum of Women in the Arts, (2011). Maria Martinez 1887–1980. Retrieved from,

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Rogers, Tim, Marsha Bol, and Lucy R. Lippard (205). In Pursuit of Perfection: the Art of Agnes Martin, Maria Martinez, and Florence Pierce. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of Fine Arts.

Spivey, Richard L., María Montoya Martínez, Herb Lotz, and Richard L. Spivey. 2003. The legacy of Maria Poveka Martinez. Santa Fe, N.M.: Museum of New Mexico Press.

Tisdale, Shelby J. (2005). “Maria Poveka Martinez.” American Indian Art Magazine 31, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 54-63.




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