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New exhibit dedicated to Maria Martinez’s life

SANTA FE – Maria Martinez’s alchemy with pigment and clay stretched beyond the catalog of exquisite works of art.

The San Ildefonso Pueblo legend was equally brilliant in science and in marketing, said Peter Seibert, executive director of the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos.

The museum on Sunday celebrated the grand opening of a new gallery and permanent exhibit dedicated to the life of the internationally known potter.

The approximately 6-by-6-foot space is a remodeling of the museum’s former library, Seibert said. Museum donors R. Kirk Landon and Pamela Garrison funded the $90,000 renovation.

Martinez almost single-handedly revived the art of pueblo pottery, raising it well beyond the souvenir railroad trinkets and curios available at the time. An 1880 Smithsonian expedition noted that the people of San Ildefonso “have almost abandoned the manufacture of pottery.” Spanish tinware and Anglo enamelware had become readily available, making traditional pottery unnecessary.

Martinez changed all that.

Museum officials have nurtured an ongoing relationship with the artist and her descendants for more than 40 years, Seibert said.

Known for her lavish jewelry collection, Millicent Rogers never knew Martinez or her work. But her son and museum founder Paul Peralta-Ramos inherited the Standard Oil heiress’ love of collecting and Native American art.

“Paul was friends with her,” exhibition curator Carmela Quinto said. “He definitely collected Maria, among other potters.”

As a result, the museum houses what may be the largest public collection of pottery, artifacts, tools and documents relating to Maria’s life and family.

“We’ve been opening and welcoming to them,” Quinto said. “It’s about treating people with respect. Because these objects belong to them. We’re just the host.”

The Da family (the relatives of Popovi Da, Martinez’s son) donated much of the collection in the 1970s and 1980s. Within the past year, the Gonzales family has added even more to the trove.

Renowned potter Barbara Gonzales is Maria’s great-granddaughter; Cavan Gonzales is her great-great grandson.

Even after Martinez’s death in 1980, the family continued to donate items to the museum, creating a collection of “several hundred,” Seibert said.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal