A Black-On-Black Jar by Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez

By Hillary C. Olcott

October 1, 2020

Black jar with black stylized tree and wave motif

Maria Martinez (American, San Ildefonso, 1887 – 1980) and her husband, Julian Martinez (American, San Ildefonso, 1879 – 1943), were a formidable team. Maria was an expert potter and could burnish clay to a brilliant shine. Julian was an astute designer who painted the pots with a matte slip using designs adapted from rock art and ancient pottery fragments. Together they refined a painting and burnishing technique that, combined with a carbon-rich reductive firing process, resulted in these distinctive black-on-black ceramics. After Julian’s death, Maria continued her work with other family members. Their legacy is part of a continuous pottery-making tradition in San Ildefonso, New Mexico, that involves the collaboration of men and women.

Black jar with black stylized tree and wave motif

Maria Martinez (1887–1980), Julian Martinez (1879–1943), Jar. Earthenware, Object: 17.8 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm (7 x 9 x 9 in.). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ardelle Southworth, 2017.11

This jar was purchased in 1939 at the Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island. There, the newly formed Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) organized the Indian Court, an approximately 50,000-square-foot exhibition and marketplace within the fair’s Federal Court building. Congress’s Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1935, which formed the IACB, forbade the organization to “deal in Indian goods,” so the Exposition partnered with the Covelo Indian Community of the Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino County to host the Indian marketplace.

Poster with an image of a Pomo basket

Louis Bassi Siegriest, Pomo Indian Basket - California from the series for the Indian Court in the Federal Building at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939. Color screenprint poster, 34 1/8 x 23 1/8 in. (86.7 x 58.6 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of the West Coast Area Center, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1980.1.72. Estate of Louis Bassi Siegriest. Photograph © Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, photograph by Randy Dodson

Maria and Julian Martinez were among numerous Native artists who traveled to the fair to demonstrate their craft and sell their works. The stylized tree and wave motifs that appear on this jar are said to have been inspired by the soaring pines and redwoods that grow along California’s Pacific Coast.

We are now open and thrilled to welcome you back safely to the de Young museum! You can see Maria Martinez and Julian Martinez's Black-on-black jar on view in Gallery 04. With your health and safety as our top priority, we’ve made some changes to create additional time and space for everyone.

Read Our Safety Plan

Text by Hillary C. Olcott, associate curator, arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. This text is an excerpt from the upcoming selected works publication, de Young 125, available for presale in Spanish, Mandarin, and English from the Museum Stores

Learn more about the Art of the Americas at the de Young.

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