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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Maria Montoya Martinez

PotterLos Alamos, NM

Native American
Maria Martinez

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.

Maria Montoya Martinez's Timeline
1887 Born in San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico.
1908 Inspired by Edgar Lee Hewitt's 1908 excavation to begin experimenting with black monochromatic pottery.
1973 Received the initial grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to found a Martinez pottery workshop.
1980 Jul 20th Died in San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico

Maria and Julian Martinez

Maria Montoya Martinez and her grandchild with Enrico Fermi. Photo courtesy of the Robert JS Brown Collection.

Maria Montoya Martinez dancing with Manhattan Project scientist Robert Brode. Photo courtesy of the Robert JS Brown Collection.

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