San Ildefonso Pueblo Pottery
For more than eighty years the potters of San Ildefonso have been known for their black-on-black wares decorated through a special slipping and firing technique. To create the famous San Ildefonso black-on-black pottery, the design is painted with a clay slip onto the well-polished, but unfired, surface. The matte finish of the slipped design contrasts with the polished surface. The pot is then fired in an oxygen-reduced atmosphere, accomplished by smothering the fire at a certain stage with masses of animal dung or sawdust. The smoke from the organic material is forced into the upper surface of the vessel, turning it black. On the finshed product, the slip-painted design appears in a matte gray-to-black against the shiny, iridescent black of the polished surface. The design may be either a negative or postive one.The two vessels on the right are both by the famous Maria Martinez (1881-1980). The one on the top (9" in diameter) was decorated by Julian, her husband (188?-1943); the one on the bottom (7" in diameter) by their son, Popovi Da.
Black-on-Black pottery was developed and made popular sometime after 1918 by Maria and Julian Martinez, who appear on the left in a photograph made in the 1930s by Ten Broeck Williamson. Maria made and polished the pots with consummate skill; Julian decorated them with equal artistic genius. Together they helped make Pueblo pottery a recognized art form greatly desired by collectors both in the United States and abroad. Julian created and popularized several designs still favored by Pueblo artists today. These include the avanyu or water serpent seen in the pot by Blue Corn (4" in diameter) and the radiating feathers painted by Popovi Da on Maria's pot above.
In San Ildefonso Black-on-Black pottery continues to be made today, along with a variety of other styles. Below we exhibit three more San Ildefonso pieces, one old and two contemporary. On the far left is an example of the old style San Ildefonso polychrome, dating to around 1900. In the middle is a miniature seed jar by Barbara Gonzales, done in the black and sienna style and set with turquoise. On the far right is a small white on red bowl by Gilbert and Beele.