Pueblo: San Ildefonzo Pueblo
Few artists can claim the worldwide honor and fame bestowed upon Maria Montoya Poveka Martinez – Pond Lily during her lifetime. This modest, traditional, Pueblo woman received honorary degrees from major universities, countless medals and citations from governments and institutions, and special invitations to the White House from four different Presidents.
Although Maria’s San Ildefonso people had a thousand year-old tradition of pottery making, by the time she was born, her small community was in the midst of great cultural change, and many traditional practices—including pottery-making—were in decline. Although many women in the pueblo made pottery, it was no longer a necessary part of daily life. Inexpensive Spanish tin ware and Anglo enamelware had replaced traditional pottery jars and cooking pots. Because of pottery’s diminished importance, many potters spent less time and effort on their work, making ever smaller and simpler pieces which they sold for a few cents to the souvenir trade in Santa Fe.
While doing in the historical excavation just north of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in 1907-1908, a team working with Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, Director of the Museum of New Mexico uncovered some prehistoric pottery which was different from the current San Ildefonso style. Julian, Maria’s husband, was working on the excavation; Maria helped with feeding the excavation team. During the excavation, Maria discussed with Dr. Hewett the older pottery and pieces. Julian and Maria worked to create a finish similar to that of the older pottery. Their trials spawned a glowing black pottery, but it was not until 1915 that designs were applied to the vessels.
This was not the first attempt at pottery for Maria and Julian. They were already accomplished polychrome potters. Maria would form the vessel and Julian would paint. The combined team would help create the black-on-black pottery so famous today. After Julian’s death in 1943, Marie’s son, Adam and his wife, Santana, began to assist Maria with the creation of her pottery. Eventually her other son, Popovi Da took over the painting of the pottery. With creativity, hard work and generosity, Maria generated public interest in Pueblo pottery, raised the overall level of quality by sharing her talents and setting new standards of artistic and technical ability, and became the icon for Native American craftspeople and artists.
Although Maria was not the only famous Pueblo potter, she is still considered one of the greatest potters in the world. In her mind, she was just one of many traditional women of San Ildefonso who made good pottery. “God and the Great Spirit gave me (hands) that work…. God gave me that hand, but not for myself, for all my people.”
The Legacy of Maria Poveka Martinez, by Richard Spivey (2003)
The Living Tradition of Maria Martinez, by Susan Peterson (1989)