National Museum of Women in the Arts
Maria Martinez
circa 1887 - June 10 1980
Photograph of Maria Martinez, unknown date, by Susan Peterson, courtesy of the Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ, USA. (c) Susan Peterson
Place of Birth:
San Ildefonso Pueblo
Phonetic Spelling:
mah-REE-ah mahr-TEE-nehs
Minority status:
Native American
Native American Tribe:
Work Type/Media:
Decorative and utilitarian works
Artistic Role(s):
Potter, Self-taught Artist
Traditional Art
Artist's Biography:
Probably the most famous American Indian artist of the twentieth century, the potter Maria Martinez spent all of her ninety-nine years in the place where she was born: San Ildefonso Pueblo in northern New Mexico, about twenty miles from Santa Fe. Pottery making had been an important part of her culture for more than two thousand years, and many Martinez family members—including Maria’s four sisters, her husband, two sons, a daughter-in-law, and several cousins—were also involved in producing pots.

Martinez learned to make pottery in the traditional way, by watching her aunt and grandmother at work. By age thirteen, she was already celebrated within the tribe for her creative skills. In 1904 she married Julian Martinez, a noted American Indian painter. Together they revived an ancient local process for making the all-black pottery (rather than the all-red or polychrome ware that had been common for generations) for which they became well known. Julian also painted designs on many of his wife’s pots.

Thanks to a book published about her work and the efforts to exhibit and sell her pots by Edgar Lee Hewett, director of the Museum of New Mexico, by the mid-1920s, Martinez’s blackware had become extremely popular outside the pueblo. Martinez was encouraged to sign her pots, which were beginning to be regarded as works of art rather than household rituals or vessels. Soon collectors, scholars, and busloads of tourists began visiting San Ildefonso to meet her and buy her pots. Although she had not had any formal training, Martinez was awarded two honorary doctorates, had her portrait made by the noted American sculptor Malvina Hoffman, and in 1978 was offered a major exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery. Her enormous success enabled Martinez to support her family; it also made it easier for other artists to earn their living by making pottery. Having inspired five generations of artists, today she is considered one of the matriarchs of American Indian pottery.

Place(s) of Residence:
San Ildefonso Pueblo
Where Trained/Schools:
Related Visual Artists:
niece of and influenced by Nicolasa Peña Montoya sister of and collaborated with Maximiliana Montoya Martinez sister of Desideria Montoya Sanchez sister of Clara Montoya sister of Juanita Montoya Vigil wife of and collaborated with Julian Martinez mother of Popovi Da mother of Adam Martinez mother-in-law of and collaborated with Santana Roybal Martinez grandmother of Tony Da
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Honorary Degree, Columbia College, Chicago, IL, USA (1977) First Annual Governor’s Award, New Mexico Arts Commission, Santa Fe, NM USA (1974) Symbol of Man Award, Minnesota Museum of Art, St. Paul, MN, USA (1969)
Earliest exhibition:
Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, St. Louis World's Fair, St. Louis, MO, USA (1904)
NMWA exhibition(s):
The Legacy of Generations: Pottery by American Indian Women
Preserving the Past, Securing the Future: Donations of Art, 1987-1997
American Indian Pottery from the Collection
Artist retrospective(s):
Maria Martinez: Five Generations of Potters, Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC, USA (1978)
Related places