The famous black pottery of New Mexico comes from two pueblos, San Ildefonso and Santa Clara, two neighboring pueblo villages, laying along the Rio Grande river just north of Santa Fe.
When you talk about black pottery, you must start with Maria Martinez, the potter of San Ildefonso. She, along with Hopi potter Nampeyo, turned utilitarian ware into an art form, beginning around the turn of the last century.
Eagle Feather Jar by Maria and Santana >
In 1919, Maria, and her husband Julian, were producing superior polychrome pottery. It was then that they first brought out their black-on-black pottery – black-matte design on polished black ware. Black-on-black, thin-walled ware has continued to be the most recognized technique of San Ildefonso pottery. Maria was the potter who began to sign her work to guarantee authenticity.
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Dora Tse Pé
Dora has been entering and winning awards in major shows since 1969, and is still winning. She was recently honored as one of the "Masters" of Indian Market. Although a Zia by birth, she married into the San Ildefonso Pueblo, bringing with her some of her Zia shapes. However, most of her pottery reflects the San Ildefonso styles. She was one of the first to add the idea of a turquoise inset, an innovation by her, Popovi Da and Toni Da. She was also one of the first to use the refiring techniques that create the sienna duotone rims and feature spots. Dora is truly one of the great contemporary Indian potters.
"Everything I learned while growing up at Zia applies to life at San Ildefonso. However, pottery, clay and style are somewhat different between the two Pueblos. I adapted with help of my former/late mother-in-law, Rose Gonzales, a well-known potter of San Ildefonso Pueblo.
"My mother, Candelaria Gachupin, was one of Zia Pueblo's most outstanding potters. My first experience with my mother's clay was when I was about six years old. She taught be the sacredness of clay. All have spiritual significance. I treat my clay with much respect."
Item# P613 -Dora Tse-Pé, San Ildefonso.
The typical Dora-style jar is polished black with a reddish-brown sienna duotone feature, and frequently with a turquoise inset. One of her innovations is adding a micaceous slip to portions of her work, as is this black central band – an Avonyu water serpent with a beautiful turquoise cabochon from the Crescent Valley Turquoise Mine, Utah.
Size: 5 3/4" high by 5" diameter.
Item# P839 -Dora Tse-Pé, San Ildefonso.
One of Dora's classic pieces is this small water jar, with a turquoise cabochon set in a field of tan. The tan color is achieved by refiring the area that she wants to change color from the black. Dora is noted for her very fine polishing, as shown here.
Size: 3 1/4" high by 2 3/4" diameter.
Price: $750 SOLD.
Item# P840 -Dora Tse-Pé, San Ildefonso.
Here, Dora has combined a highly polished, black body, with a tan, micaceous top, separated by a band of small turquoise beads. Dora has been a pioneer in combining colors and textures, with turquoise accents.
Size: 3 1/4" high by 2 3/4" diameter.
Price: $650 SOLD.
Item# P765 -Dora Tse-Pé, San Ildefonso.
In this beautiful jar, Dora has fired it in an oxygen rich atmosphere, which makes the ceramic red. She has used a micaceous slip on the jar, itself. A bear symbol is featured in the center. All of this is surrounded by fine shell hishi, and turquoise and coral beads, inlaid in the margin of the black circle. The lid is another form of the bear symbol. In Pueblo tradition, the bear was sent to lead the Pueblo People to the Rio Grande Valley and it abundant agricultural productivity.
Size: overall 3 7/8" high by 4" diameter.
Item# P841 -Dora Tse-Pé, San Ildefonso.
The legacy of San Ildefonso pottery began with Maria Poveka Martinez. As Nampeyo is the matriarch of contemporary Hopi pottery, so is Maria the matriarch of contemporary San Ildefonso pottery. Born in 1887, she married Julian Martinez in 1904. In 1907, after seeing prehistoric shards of pottery excavated by the School of American Research, she and Julian began to venture into pottery making. Encouraged by the expedition leader, Dr. Edgar Hewett, they went on to make polychrome pottery with great artistry. In 1919, Maria and Julian began to experiment with black-on-black. At the time, the couple were already making prize-winning polychrome pottery, with superior designs and technique. Collectors acknowledge that Maria had the best finish of all San Ildefonso potters, a deep luster of polished jet black. Until his death in 1943, Julian painted all of the designs on Maria's pottery, hence the signature of both. Maria made the pots, polished and fired them, but never made the designs. After Julian, other members of Maria's family did the designs. Maria made many pots with no designs, just her famous polished black finish. The photo of Maria, above, was taken by a family friend in October, 1930. He hand-tinted the original black and white print. [Information for this bio was taken from the Richard Spivey book, Maria.
Item# P867 -Maria and Julian Martinez, San Ildefonso.
In this small jar, you see Maria's fine polish. Julian has painted a reverse design in matte black. In one quadrant, he has painted the prehistoric circle design or labyrinth. In the other quadrant he has painted a wing and cloud design. Because of the signature, this piece has been dated circa early 1930s. The piece is in remarkable condition, no major scratches, no chips, no water marks. It is signed "Marie & Julian." At the time, Maria used the name "Marie," because she thought it would be "better understood." Click here, for an image of the signature. This is a collector's prize. If you do not have a Maria, or a Maria and Julian, this is an opportunity to add to your collection. (If you are interested, we have a 10-day examination period, call us for this service.)
Size: 3 1/8" high by 4 3/4" diameter.
Price: $2,700 SOLD.
Item# P947 -Barbara Gonzales, San Ildefonso.
Barbara Gonzales is following a rich family tradition. She is the great granddaughter of Maria and Julian, and the granddaughter of Adam and Santana. In this feather bowl, she is following a pattern and style set by Maria, soft black on polished black. Barbara, living in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, has been a serious potter for almost 40 years. Regarded as an award winning potter, she frequently lectures at museums, schools and and cultural events. Her husband, Robert, assists Barbara using traditional San Ildefonso ways of potting.
Size: 4 1/2" high by 7 3/8" diameter.
Item# P791 -Carol Gutierrez, San Ildefonso.
Carol Gutierrez-Naranjo is one of the daughters of the late, well-known potter, Helen Gutierrez. Helen was from San Ildefonso Pueblo and married into the Santa Clara Pueblo. Consequently, her daughters are half, each, but were raised at Santa Clara. After her marriage, Helen continued to pot in the traditional San Ildefonso style and always signed her potter as "San Ildefonso." Her daughters, Carol and Kathy, continue to do the same, both to reflect their heritage, and the fact that their pottery is styles as the classic San Ildefonso. Carol works full-time at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Size: 4 1/2" high by 4 7/8" diameter.
Item# P792-Kathy Gutierrez, San Ildefonso.
Kathy is another daughter of the late Helen Gutierrez, a well known and respected San Ildefonso potter. Kathy and Carol live near each other, and work together on their pottery. However, they sign individually. It is virtually impossible to tell their work apart. Again, these two sisters have captured the revival of the classic San Ildefonso black on black style. Like many with a San Ildefonso ancestry, Kathy and Carol are rather distantly related to Maria Martinez. Art runs in the family, their uncle is Gilbert Atencio, a noted painter.
Size: 4" high by 5 1/2" diameter.
Price: $450 SOLD.
Item# P372 -Kathy Gutierrez, San Ildefonso.
Item# P507 -Martha Appleleaf Fender, San Ildefonso.
Martha is the daughter of famous San Ildefonso potter, Carmelita Dunlap. She is on of the few San Ildefonso potters to maintain the classic style of the pueblo. Her mentor was her mother, Carmelita. She also received early training from her aunts, Maria Martinez and Disideria Montoya. Carlos Dunlap was her brother and the two often worked together. This cream on red jar is in the tradition she learned from her uncle, Albert Vigil.
Size: 8" high by 9 1/2" diameter.
Item# P506 -Martha Appleleaf Fender, San Ildefonso.
Martha often pushes the boundary of the San Ildefonso style. However, here she has made a classic matte on polished black jar, typical of the pueblo. The design is the Avonyu water serpent, so often used by her aunt, Maria Martinez.
Size: 5 7/8" high by 6" diameter.
Price: $900 SOLD.
Item# P527 -Eric (Than Tsideh) Fender, San Ildefonso.
Eric, Martha Fender's son, began winning awards for his work in 1987, at the age of 17, and has continued as a regular winner in the best shows. He worked with his grandmother, Carmelita Dunlap; and still works with his mother, Martha. He regularly works with the classic San Ildefonso black on black. However, he is an innovator, experimenting with both clays and paints. Here he has executed a polychrome jar, reminiscent of the old-style San Ildefonso pottery, the style used by his great aunt, Maria Martinez, when she first started potting. If you would like to have an "old style" San Ildefonso jar in your collection, this would be an opportunity. Eric signs his pottery with his Indian name, Than Tsideh, which translates in English to Sunbird.
Size: 7 1/2" high by 7" diameter.
Item# P705 -John Gonzales, San Ildefonso.
In this plate John has engraved the center portion (sgraffito), so that the figure of Avonyu stands out in relief. (Avonyu is the pueblo mythical water god.) Around the perimeter, he has set a circle of shell hishi beads, and then an engraved (sgraffito) circle of prayer feathers. In the center, John has placed a large, Lone Mountain turquoise cabochon (click here for a close-up of the center). A native of San Ildefonso Pueblo, John has been a champion of Indian affairs. With a bachelors degree from Stanford University and a masters from MIT, in 1987, he was elected by Tribes throughout the US as President of the National Congress of American Indians. He was the youngest person to be so elected. In 1989, under the George H. W. Bush administration, he served in the Department of Interior as a consultant. In 1991, John returned to the Pueblo. With the encouragement of his father, Lorenzo, a well-known potter, John immersed himself into the centuries old tradition of pottery making. He has since been a leading force in SWAIA, and has earned numerous awards for his unique style and artistry. Today, he is the chairman of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, a high honor.
Size: 13" diameter.
Price: $1,250 SOLD.
Item# P763 -John Gonzales, San Ildefonso.
Here, John has executed a bowl, with a carved Avonyu water serpent circling the perimeter. Rain clouds are an accent. Shell hishi beads circle the central band. John comes from a family rich in the pottery tradition, including his father, Lorenzo and his grandmother Juanita.
Size: 3 1/2" high x 6" diameter.
Item# P764 -John Gonzales, San Ildefonso.
Here, John has executed a smaller bowl, with a carved Avonyu water serpent circling the perimeter. Rain clouds are an accent. Turquoise hishi beads circle the central band.
Size: 2 3/8" high x 4" diameter.
San Ildefonso and Santa Clara
Significant San Ildefonso pottery families include the Martinez family led by their matriarch, Maria. (Actually, Maria formed the pots and polished the black slip while family members did the decoration, namely her husband, Julian, her son Popovi Da, and her son and daughter-in-law Adam and Santana.) Other noted members of this family are Carmelita Dunlop and Blue Corn. Another San Ildefonso family is the Gonzales group, including Rose Gonzales and her son, Tse Pé, and granddaughter, Jennifer Tse Pé, and John Gonzales.
- Recommended reading - Check Amazon.com. They stock most of these titles.
- Maria by Richard L. Spivey, Northland Publishing, $90.00 (hard cover, out of print);
- The Legacy of Maria Poveka Martinez by Richard L. Spivey, Museum of New Mexico Press, $42.00 (hard cover);
- Pueblo Pottery, 750 Artist Biographies/I> by Gregory Schaaf, CIAC Press, $110.00 (hard cover);
- Southwestern Pottery, Anasazi to Zuni by Allan Hayes and John Blom, Northland Publishing, $21.95 (paper);
- Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery, by Rick Dillingham, University of New Mexico Press, $37.50 (paper);
- Hopi Pottery Symbols by Alex Patterson, Johnson Books, $17.95 (paper);
- Nampeyo and her Legacy by Barbara Kramer, University of New Mexico Press, $39.95 (cloth);
- Talking with the Clay, by Stephen Trimble, $15.95 (paper);
- Pueblo Storyteller by Barbara A. Babcock, $25.95 (paper);
- Generations In Clay, by Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., and Fred Plog, Northland Press;
- Living Tradition of Maria Martinezby Susan Peterson, $45.00 (paper)