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Plate with feather motif, c. 1940, Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1887–1980), Blackware, Gift of Mrs. Lewis Humason, 1989.21.50.


Maria Martinez is celebrated as a matriarch of Native American pottery traditions, who inspired ceramicists across the world. She learned to make pottery from her aunt and grandfather, but she and her husband, Julian Martinez, revived an ancient local process for making the all-black pottery. They trained dozens of family and community members in the technique, thus continuing the centuries-old pottery traditions of San Ildefonso Pueblo of northern New Mexico. As her pots exploded on the fine art market, she was encouraged to sign her name on the bottom of her pots. Though it denied the communal nature of the art, she began to sign her work as it resulted in more money.

This plate features a feather motif, and the famous “black-on-black” burnishing technique that she and her family were known for. Once a piece dried and hardened, she polished its surface with a small stone. Designs were then painted on using liquid clay, producing a matte surface that contrasts with the high polished areas.