Maria Martinez is widely recognized as “The Potter of San Ildefonso” and is the person who rediscovered the secret to making Santa Clara black ware. It can really be argued that she was in large part responsible for the resurrection and popularity of Pueblo pottery as a fine art form.
During her career, she made black and red ware as well as anyone, but she became famous for her revival of Santa Clara polychrome pottery. Before Marie revived the black ware pottery and back into the previous century, Santa Clara pottery was polychrome (multiple colors) usually with a cream background.
Blue Corn started school at the Pueblo but ended up attending the Santa Fe Indian School. While she was there, her parents passed away and she ending up moving to California where she lived with relatives.
When she moved back, she cleaned homes, including that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear scientist who worked at Los Alamos. At 20, she married a Santo Domingo silversmith, Santiago Calabaza. In the 1950’s, he began working with her designing and painting pottery. In 1972, after her husband passed, she worked with her son, Joseph.
This was not unusual as many Pueblo potters formed artistic partnerships with family members to jointly create their works. Maria worked with her husband, Julian, her son, Popovi Da and her son and daughter-in-law, Adam and Santana.
Blue Corn knew and learned much from Maria and her family. In fact, Maria’s sister gave Blue Corn her name during her San Ildefonso “naming ceremony”. Her first exposure to pottery making was at the age of three when her grandmother let her play with the clay she was working.
She was several times an award winner at the Santa Fe Indian Market and in 1981 she was honored with the “Governor’s Award,” New Mexico’s highest artistic honor. After her death, SWAIA, the organization that runs Indian Market, awarded Blue Corn the 2008 “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
In the early 1970s, I was in Santa Fe and saw an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about Blue Corn. It was a great story. Later that day I was in Forest Fenn’s Gallery and they had a small black on black pot that was pretty and affordable. It was the first pot that I ever bought and I gave it to my sister for Christmas. She still has it.
I later met Blue Corn at Indian Market and visited with her every year. I was fascinated by the way she would talk for hours with people who came by her booth. She really liked what she did and she appreciated people who liked her work.
She occasionally carved the designs in her pottery, but it was not common. This piece features an Avanyu Serpent, the snake that brings water to the village crops. When you hear the sound of water rushing through an arroyo, that sound is actually made by the Avanyu!
A couple of weeks ago, we picked up one of the nicest small black on black pots that I have seen. It is a beautiful feather design vase and, while I love her polychrome work, I feel as though her black ware doesn’t get enough attention. This is a beautiful example of her work.Anyone who collects Santa Clara pottery should have at least one example of Blue Corn’s work.