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Maria Martinez

Native American

Date unknown

4.5 x 6.5 x 6.5 in.
Gift of the Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation

The production process for an object like Olla was complex and could require weeks to create. María and Julian’s distinctive style combined a glossy and matte surface. First, they gathered clay and volcanic ash from the land surrounding the pueblo. Mixing these materials together created the basic clay body which was shaped with traditional gourd tools. Once dried, the surface of was highly polished with a river stone. Julian, an accomplished painter and water colorist, would use liquid clay to paint the desired contrasting matte surface design.

Once the object had dried, María and Julian’s firing process determined the coloring of the clay. In some objects, the black coloring is achieved through a reduction firing process, which reduces the oxygen in the firing pit by smothering the flames with dry horse dung. This causes a chemical reaction by trapping the carbon, which blackens the clay body with the trapped smoke. In the similarly designed Olla, the fire was not smothered which instead produced a rich red-brown color.

The development of María and Julian’s work can be traced through how each vessel was signed. Among Puebloan cultures, it was seen as taboo to sign their artwork. Olla is likely the oldest object produced by the couple in NEHMA’s collection as it lacks an artist’s signature.

Matthew Limb

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