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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Pueblo (USA)
Title: Bowl
Date: 1925–43
Medium: Ceramic
Dimensions: Height: 5 1/4 inches (13.3 cm); Diameter: 8 1/2 inches (21.6 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of Hilda Brand Jaffee
Object Number: 81.012.021
This bowl is an example of the well-known work of potter Maria Martinez, known especially for her creation of blackware vessels.

This bowl was made in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, in New Mexico.

Maria Martinez (1887-1980) is one of the most famous potters from the San Ildefonso Pueblo, located north of Santa Fe along the Rio Grande near Bandelier National Monument. The potters at San Ildefonso are best known for their incredible black on black pottery style that was first created by Maria and her husband Julian in the 1920’s. Basing her initial creations on a request to reproduce archaeological pottery, Maria Martinez created a sensation in the art world.

Martinez gathered the clay for her pots locally. Due to high iron content, the clay in the San Ildefonso region is quite red. Volcanic ash and water were also added to the clay before it was ready to be worked.

Martinez formed her vessels with coils of clay, using a ceramic form known as a puki to shape and support the base of the pot as she worked. The decorations on this pot are achieved by burnishing the surface and then selectively painting some areas with slip (a mixture of clay and water) to produce a matte design. To produce a burnished surface, potters wait until the clay is nearly dry, and then rub the surface with a smooth object, usually a round, flat-sided stone.

The black color of the pottery is achieved by limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches the vessels as they are fired. This is called reduction firing.

Potsherds (fragments of older pots) from vessels with black designs on a black ground were excavated by archeologist Edgar Lee Hewett while he was digging in old Anasazi settlements in New Mexico in 1908 and 1909. He asked Maria Martinez, who was working as a potter in the San Ildefonso Pueblo, whether or not she might be able to replicate this style of pottery. Working with her husband Julian, they experimented with various approaches until they developed a technique to successfully make the black on black designs.

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NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.