Published: July 27, 2004
While the distinctive blackware pottery originated by Maria and Julian Martinez in their home village of San Ildefonso around 1920 is now world famous, little attention has been given to San Ildefonso pottery created before their innovation. Yet, from 1875 to 1925, the polychrome pottery produced at San Ildefonso reached and represents a creative peak in the centuries’ long history of pueblo pottery.
An exhibition at Steve Elmore Indian Art from July 30 to September 6 features an important collection of water jars and other forms from this earlier period of pottery making at San Ildefonso.
There will be an opening reception on July 30 from 5 to 7 pm.
Before 1875, the pottery from San Ildefonso had a gray-slipped background with simple black designs painted on bulbous rounded form according to Elmore. The use of red was conservatively confined to the rim and a narrow band on the bottom of the jar. Around 1880, potters at San Ildefonso began introducing red into the painted design on the main body of the jar.
What prompted this introduction of red is unknown, but some scholars suggest the arrival of thousands of curious travelers from the eastern United States on the newly built railroad sparked the change. The tourists were eager to purchase pottery, and the polychrome wares of Acoma led the market.
The addition of the red clay paint into the design and the development of more elaborate and precise designs on San Ildefonso pottery was thus a trader-inspired marketing attempt to compete with the popular pottery of Acoma and nearby Laguna. It is also possible that a single inspired artist, an unknown Nampeyo or Maria of an earlier generation, suddenly added red paint to the plain palette and created the first polychrome.
Whatever the reason, by the early 1800s, hundreds of polychrome jars were being produced annually by the skilled potters of San Ildefonso for sale to tourist and museum trade.
In response to this demand, and for nearly 50 years thereafter, the potters of San Ildefonso created well molded pots brilliantly decorated in black and red, whose size and beauty have not yet been surpassed since.
The Steve Elmore Indian Art gallery is at 839 Paseo de Peralta. For information, www.elmoreindianart.com or 505-995-9677.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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