María Montoya Martinez is of the most influential potters in the world and has had a definitive impact on the development of ceramics in the American West. María and her husband Julian developed their black-on-black pottery style for which they achieved global recognition. María was born in 1887 and is of Tewa heritage of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, approximately 20 miles northwest of Santa Fe. Around age eleven, she learned pottery by watching her aunt, Tia Nicolasa, and her grandmother make clay dishes and quickly became known amongst her peers for her proficiency and precision with clay.
In 1908, while excavating in the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett (a professor of archaeology and director of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe) uncovered seventeenth century black-on-white biscuit ware shards. Hewett found this style to be distinct from earlier types of pottery in the region and wanted to preserve the art form in museums. He began searching for a Puebloan potter who he hoped could recreate the style. This search led him directly to María. With Hewett’s encouragement, María and her husband Julian began a long process of trial and error. Through this experimentation, they developed their own completely unique style of polished black-on-black ware—a combination not previously seen amongst Native American ceramics in the Southwest.
María, Julian, and their family gave demonstrations of their technique at World’s Fairs, workshops, and to potters and collectors who visited them in New Mexico. María Martinez is one of the most highly decorated and recognized potters in the world. She freely shared her knowledge with others and uplifted her community economically. María remains a crucial historical figure in the history of the vessel tradition and the revival of Native American ceramics in the twentieth century.