The most famous potter of the 20th century, Maria Antonia Montoya Martinez was born in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, about 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lived in the Pueblo all of her long life, eager to greet visitors and share her craft with those who came to watch and listen.
She was seven years old when her aunt taught her to make pottery. She was fortunate to have a chance to learn this traditional art since by this time pottery was being replaced by inexpensive tin ware and enamelware. By the time she was 13, Maria was a skillful potter.
With her marriage to her good friend Julian Martinez, a life-long partnership began that has produced some of the most famous pottery of the Southwest. When Julian helped with the excavation of an ancient Pueblo ruin in 1907-1908, one of the archeologists asked Maria to duplicate the ancient pots. By mixing clay with fine sand, Maria found she could make pots that were equally thin as the ancient ones
Maria molded the pots while Julian painted them. From 1909 to 1912 the couple demonstrated pottery-making at the Museum of New Mexico. They tried to duplicate the black pots seen in the museum and found they could blacken them with smoke.
For many years, Maria and Julian worked together creating their pottery while raising a family and carrying out the traditional duties of the pueblo. In 1943 Julian died and Maria’s daughter-in-law took over painting the pots. She later worked with her grandson, Popovi Da. One of the family’s most innovative potters is another of Maria’s grandsons, Tony Da.
The first Pueblo potter to sign her work, she often gave away her profits to those in need and generously taught other potters to make the black on black pots. She received many national and international awards for her work and continued to make pots until her death in 1980.