Maria Martinez (1887-1980) was a Tewa, Native American potter who lived at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. Her artistic experimentation with traditional Pueblo pottery styles and techniques helped preserve the cultural art of her people.
Born at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Martinez began practicing pottery at a young age, initially learning from her aunt. The popularity of her and her husband’s pottery took off after a 1908 archaeological expedition uncovered prehistoric Pueblo pottery. Her popularity as an artist would lead Martinez to eventually hold a maternal role in her community, helping her forge friendly relationships with the soldiers and scientists of the Manhattan Project when they came to Los Alamos. This included her son, Popovi Da, who worked on the Manhattan Project as a machinist. Martinez’s openness was crucial to developing relationships between the Project and the indigenous people of New Mexico.
In 1973, she received the initial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to found a Martinez pottery workshop. Martinez died in 1980. Her art remains world-renowned today.