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An Exploration of the Martinez Family of Potters

Ella Ip is a senior at Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, but her primary residence is Austin, Texas. She worked at the UT TARL Lab as a summer intern interested specifically in black-on-black pottery. She researched and wrote this opinion-editorial under Marybeth S. Tomka.

An Exploration of the Martinez Family of Potters

Ella Ip

I was first exposed to San Ildefonso pottery in my sophomore AP Art History class. We were introduced to the Pueblo people’s heritage and reason for continuing the art of pottery within their tribes. When I spotted the blackware pottery created by the Martinez family on a tour of the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (UT TARL Lab), I knew I had to investigate the pieces even further. The purpose of my research was to investigate the ethnographies of the Pueblo people, document multiple donations of Pueblo pottery, and explore the Martinez Family Potter’s efforts to revitalize the traditional way of creating pottery.

My first step in researching was to develop a foundational knowledge on the people of the Pueblo communities. According to Edward P. Dozier, Pueblos are the most easily delimitable group in the greater Southwest and exhibit the most resistance to change. Pueblo communities are set apart from their indigenous neighbors by two main criteria: farming as a principal basis of subsistence and residence in compact villages. The contemporary groups are identified by linguistic affiliations: Hopi, Zuni, Keresan, and Tanoan. All the Pueblo Indians’ villages are situated in an arid climate and high altitudes (5,000 to 7,000 feet above the sea). An integral factor in understanding the Pueblo people was investigating the ethnographies of the Western and Eastern Pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona. Older classifications of the native cultural groups of the Southwest lumped all the Pueblo groups together without indicating a significant division between east and west.

The early 20th century divided the two groups, but not all have agreed to assign the same Pueblos to each category. The original classification of the American Southwest made a twofold division: a stationary people (the Pueblos) and a nomadic group (all other groups).

Florence Hawley Ellis’ Western division includes Hopi and Zuni, while her Eastern division includes the Tanoan Pueblos and most of the Keresan-speaking Pueblos, with Acoma and Laguna as transitional. Fred Eggan places Hopi, Zuni, Laguna, Acoma in his Western Pueblos, and Jemez as transitional. Eggan also used kinship types and other correlated social factors as a benchmark for his classification. The Western Pueblo social structure type, including Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna, is described by Eggan: characterized by the kinship system called “Crow type”; a household organization based on lineage and clan. In some cases, the phratry group; an associational structure based around the ceremony and its symbol such as a raven or wolf in northwestern United States tribes with relationships to lineage, clan, and household; and a theocratic system of social control. The single exception is Jemez, the Tanoan-speaking Pueblos, as they have another social structure. This Eastern Pueblo type is characterized by a kinship system where the terms are descriptive and bilateral. The household is either of the nuclear types or else extended to include relatives of one or both parents’ sides.

There is no hint of lineage principle in the organization of the terms, the family structures, or the members’ behaviors. Beyond the household is a second division of the community, usually referred to as a moiety, whose functions are governmental and ceremonial. Moiety membership is required of all, and moiety affiliation is usually with father’s moiety but may be changed at marriage or other reasons. Other related structures include three types of sodalities or associations:

  1. Those with governmental and religious functions associated with the dual divisions
  2. Medicine associations embodying curing and exorcising practices
  3. Associations with special functions, such as those for war, hunting , and clowning.

Once I had a background knowledge of the Pueblo people, I could address the Martinez Family Potters. Maria Martinez often spoke of the Pajarito Plateau excavations at Tyuonyi and Frijoles Canyon, near San Ildefonso, in 1908 and 1909. Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, a professor of archaeology and Director Museum of New Mexico, and who later became Maria’s mentor and friend, led these efforts. Hewett was commissioned to research abandoned pueblos and ancient burial mounds of the Tewa, and his work resulted in findings of exceptional interest. Hewett’s excavation, one of many directed in San Ildefonso over several years, turned up many pottery shards not frequently found in the Southwest. The shards were dark or black, some of them having a highly polished finish. They were different from traditionally found black-on-cream or black-on-red pottery, although some of these pots were also found in the area (whole and fragmented). He wanted to find an Indian woman in the area whom he could ask to make pots in this style and what she thought these pieces would have looked like whole. He was referred to Maria Martinez as she was known as a woman who could make the thinnest, roundest pots in the least amount of time. He visited her at the pueblo with some of the uncommon sherds and asked her to recreate the black pottery as close to the original ancient shards as possible. This was the beginning of the now-famous black pottery of San Ildefonso that Maria and her family have developed and perfected for more than half a century.

The last step of my research was to understand the process in which the black-on-black pottery is created. When discussing the pottery process, Maria described it as a kind of observation-instruction that is continuous in each day’s structure, in the isolation of pueblo life, for all who are part of it. She did not call the process teaching, but instead, real direct learning by imitating, demonstrating, and merely watching. Although this type of learning theoretically is most optimal in unstructured natural situations, Indian daily life is organized, setting up a series of repetitions that become the structure for a delicate educational process.

Firstly of all, the raw materials have to be gathered and processed carefully, or the final vessel will not fire correctly. To make the pottery stronger, it had to be mixed with a temper made from shards of broken pots reduced to a powder or volcanic ash. You start by taking large lumps of clay that are pried with a pick or file from the quarry, taken home, and laid out to dry in the sun for a couple of days. After the clay is evenly dried, it is placed into a vessel with enough water to cover and soak for two to four days. After several rinsings and then mixing, the solution is passed through a sieve to remove pebbles and other impurities, yielding a milkshake-like material. This mixture is allowed to “set up” for several days. Before the clay can be modeled, a filler or tempering agent made of volcanic tuff, basalt, obsidian, quartz, and other minerals are diligently mixed with the clay. This process helps counteract shrinkage and facilitates drying, thus lessening the likelihood of cracking. The potter takes a lump of clay about the size of a fist and pats it into a cone’s shape, forming the base. Using a shaping spoon or kajape usually made from a gourd, the potter scrapes and thins out the clay. Continually turning and working the wet kajape readies the base upon which rolls or coils of clay are built up into a roughly shaped vessel. Continual rubbing, moistening, and turning gradually smooths and thins out the walls and refines the shape. After curing a few days, additional scraping further thins and evens the walls.

After additional drying- 2 to 4 days depending on the weather- readies the pot for sanding. After sanding with coarse and very fine sandpaper, the pot is smoothed again by rubbing it with a wet cloth, which redistributes surface particles to fill in scratches. Next, a “slip” is applied to improve the surface texture and color. The slip is a suspension of clay in water with a thin cream consistency, and it is applied either by brush or small folded cloth. After one or two applications of the slip, the potter begins rubbing with a polishing stone, also known as burnishing. When fully burnished, a thin coat of hand-applied grease oil, followed by more rubbing, results in a highly reflective finish that some believe is a modern-day chemical glaze. Using the same clay formed by the slip, the potter makes a thin suspension as a paint. With a simple brush, sometimes a leaf from a yucca plant frayed or chewed at the end, the design is meticulously painted on (no erase is possible without sanding away the pattern and slipping and burnishing again).

When making black-on-black San Ildefonso pottery, the painted-on areas will be matte after firing, and the remainder of the surface will retain the shininess of burnishing. Additional decoration methods include carving the clay with tools, impressing a design in the moist clay, or incising an intricate image. Maria and Julian built these forms and decorations based on their own people’s art, adding some embellishments painted with an iron-rich solution created by pulverized iron ore or a reduction of wild plants called guaco. Some of the old stylized patterns are mountains, clouds, rain falling both near and far away, lightning, birds, feathers, leaves, seeds, pods, tracks of roadrunners, and mythical symbols such as water serpent. Santana made a series of upward zigzags, which she calls kiva steps.  Firing is the last step. For blackware, the materials and steps of preparing the clay, modeling, finishing, and decorating are the same as for red pottery. In a technique rediscovered by Maria and Julian Martinez, powdered cow (would have been bison dung in prehistoric or prehistoric times) dung is used to surround and cover a pot, thus blocking the entry of oxygen around the pot and preventing oxygen being absorbed by the pot. The clay is infiltrated with the black soot and earns its signature black color.

Throughout my entire process of studying pottery’s cultural significance, I learned about the emphasis on preserving the Indian experience. Often, Indians will not write down, speak, or give formal directions on performing cultural activities. They will live in it through various rituals, dances, art, music, and symbols. There is an intense pressure upon living the Indian life instead of having to learn it. Indians are not concerned with our lives’ consumer culture but the mundane tasks of everyday life. Maria continued to live in the pueblo with her family, away from the spotlight given to them because of Maria’s famed pottery. The sacrifice of living in isolation is worth it when you can preserve your traditions. The fear of corruption from the outside world is too great to allow outsiders to come into the community. Simplicity is celebrated, and complexity is shunned. Indian children are raised to assimilate the Pueblo culture in the same way they breathe. The same thing can be said about the beautiful black-on-black San Ildefonso pottery. You cannot be taught the ancient art of pottery but use the art of observation to learn. Maria always said that she was not taught pottery and that she grew up watching the women in her life making pottery. A piece of art purchased by collectors is also a piece of culture for the Pueblo people.

*Research and writing overseen by Marybeth S. Tomka

Bibliography

Dozier, Edward P. “The Pueblo Indians of the Southwest: A Survey of the Anthropological

Literature and a Review of Theory, Method, and Results.” Current Anthropology 5, no. 2 (April 1964): 79-97. Accessed May 30, 2020.https://www-jstor-org.hopkins.idm.oclc.org/stable/2739946.

Fricke, Suzanne Newman. “Puebloan: Maria Martinez, Black-on-black ceramic vessel.” Khan Academy. Accessed June 16, 2020 https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/indigenous-americas-apah/north-america-apah/a/puebloan-maria-martinez-black-on-black-ceramic-vessel.

Michaelis, Pamela. “How Pueblo Pottery is Made.” Collector’s Guide. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://www.collectorsguide.com/fa/fa024.shtml.

TARL Announcement by Dean Stevens

Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Fred Valdez to serve as the Director of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) for a 4.5 year term, effective January 16, 2021.  While his term begins immediately, he will continue to work with Brian Roberts to guarantee a smooth transition. Thanks to all of you in TARL, NAIS, Anthropology, and throughout the college who consulted with me on this decision.

Dr. Valdez is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, focusing his research on Mesoamerica and the decline of complex societies, particularly the Maya and Huastec. He has held numerous leadership positions during his tenure at UT, including as Chair of the Archaeological Studies program, Director of the Mesoamerican Archaeological Research Laboratory, and most recently as the Director for both the Center for Archaeological and Tropical Studies and the UT-Austin Belize Archaeology Program. He is a faculty affiliate of numerous departments and centers across campus, including Native American and Indigenous Studies, the Borderlands Program, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, the Department of Mexican American and Latino/a Studies, the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Mesoamerican Center.

Please join me in congratulating and welcoming Fred into this new role.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Brian Roberts for his years of outstanding leadership of TARL.  Brian has continued his long tradition of stepping in to help where it is needed in the College and University and we are all grateful for his commitment and service to UT.

Warm regards,

Ann Stevens

A Special Tribute to Mike Quigg

By Marybeth Tomka

The Gault School, TARL, the Texas community as well as the larger North American archeological community lost a dynamic and cheerful friend in J. Michael Quigg on Monday December 7th after a short battle with cancer.  I was asked to write this short tribute because of my association with him these last 30 plus years.

I first met Mike, or Quigg to many, in 1987 when he came to Texas to work for Prewitt and Associates (PAI) bringing his Northern Plains experience with bison hunters.  He quickly became a friend, a colleague first to my husband Steve who was also working for PAI, and then one of the managers I worked with at TRC (then Mariah).  Others will write of his many contributions to archeological reports and archeological interpretations, but I choose to write of his personality which allowed him to be an equally talented team leader, team member, mentor, and friend.

As a team leader he would seek my advice as the team member with expertise in lab and curation matters; as a fellow team member and mentor we would discuss options for moving forward on projects; and as a friend he was always there with supportive words and at times great hugs.  I came to see him as a brother.

After many years of not working together, he came back to TARL when Gault did two years ago, and once again he was a colleague, mentor and friend.  It was a bright day when Gault moved back into TARL quarters bringing this wonderful man. 

My own family joins the Gault family in mourning this excellent archeologist, he shared his birthday with my daughter, was godfather to my son, and true friend to both Steve and I.  You are already missed and will be remembered for your outstanding archeology and kindness to all. 

TARL TAM 2020 Lecture Series: Careless, Spiny & Succulent

This October for Texas Archeology Month, TARL is offering a series of online lectures, free and open to all. Our second lecture (“A Trade-Friendly Environment”) included unpublished data and the recording will be shared when our speaker clears this with his co-authors. The third lecture took place on October 27 and is available for viewing below.

Dr. Casey Wayne Riggs, Steward with the Texas Archeological Stewards Network and farmer at Pasigono Farms in Lamesa, Texas, presented recent research from his doctoral dissertation, completed at Texas A&M University.

Careless, Spiny, and Succulent: Terminal Late Prehistoric (A.D. 1250-1535) Plant Foods of the Eastern Trans-Pecos

In this talk, Dr. Riggs discusses nine sites in the eastern Trans-Pecos region that have occupations dating to the Terminal Late Prehistoric/Perdiz point time period and have evidence of plant foods. Investigation of these archeological plant food remains made it possible to reconstruct the inhabitants’ diet and look at which were the most likely important foods. Dr. Riggs explains how his new research changes our understanding for the region and the time period.

Clovis In Kentucky: The Little River Clovis Complex

Dr. Alan Slade of the Prehistory Research Project and Gault School of Archaeological Research recorded this talk for the 2020 Festival of Lithics: Lithics Studies Society Online Conference, and we’re sharing it today as part of the our digital outreach program for Texas Archeology Month 2020.

Check out this amazing new collection, collected from Little River Complex Clovis sites in Kentucky beginning in the 1970s and recently moved to TARL for curation.

Clovis in Kentucky: The Little River Clovis Complex: A Recent Acquisition for the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin

Colors of the Past: Mission Espiritu Santo

This week’s new coloring page features items from the Espiritu Santo Mission in Goliad county, Texas. This site has been excavated by several different projects from the 1930s to 2000s, and the artifacts recovered tell the story of a transitional time in Texas’ history. The mission was established by Spanish colonists as they attempted to stake their claim to the territory that would be come Texas, and convert native inhabitants into Christians who practiced a more European way of life.

The Mission Espiritu Santo collection includes objects of European and Mexican origin, such as ceramics, metal tools and ornaments, and glass trade beads. It also includes items that were used by the native Aranama people as they continued to conduct traditional activities, such as grinding stones, locally made pottery, and stone projectile points.

Learn more about Mission Espiritu Santo on Texas Beyond History

Download the coloring page by clicking the text below:

Espiritu Santo Coloring Page

TARL TAM 2020 Lecture Series: Peopling of the Americas and the Origins of Agriculture

This October for Texas Archeology Month, TARL is offering a series of online lectures, free and open to all. Our first lecture took place on October 15 and is available for viewing below.

Dr. Andrew Somerville, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Iowa State University, presented on his recent research.

Peopling of the Americas and the Origins of Agriculture: New Insights on Old Questions from the Tehuacan Valley, Mexico

The Tehuacan Valley of Central Mexico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its high biodiversity and rich archaeological record. During the 1960s, excavations led by Richard S. MacNeish registered over 10,000 years of human occupation within the valley and discovered thousands preserved botanical remains, including early examples of domesticated plants such as maize, beans, and chili peppers. Recent studies have returned to the collections recovered by MacNeish and apply new analytical techniques to further our understanding of the ancient history of this region. In particular, stable isotope analysis of animal bones documents significant environmental and dietary changes over time. Additionally, new radiocarbon analyses reveal surprisingly early dates and cause us to reevaluate the timing of the arrival of humans to the region and to North American more broadly. This presentation summarizes these recent findings and discusses their implications to questions about the peopling of the Americas and the origins of agriculture.

 

 

We have three more talks scheduled for this month. The first two will be streamed live over Zoom and all three will be posted here for future viewing.

October 22: Dr. Adam Schneider of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado at Boulder, will present “A Trade-Friendly Environment: Climatic Influences on Early Bronze Age Maritime Trade Between the Near East and Indus Valley” 

October 27: Dr. Casey Wayne Riggs, Steward with the Texas Archeological Stewards Network, will present “Careless, Spiny, and Succulent: Terminal Late Prehistoric (A.D. 1250-1535) Plant Foods of the Eastern Trans-Pecos

October 29: Alan Slade of the Prehistory Research Project (Gault School of Archeological Research) will present a pre-recorded talk, “Clovis Points in Texas: A Further Update to the TCPPS, 4th Edition

Colors of the Past: Ransom & Sarah Williams Farmstead

This week we’re featuring a new coloring page with artifacts from a fantastic historic archeological site. The Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead near Austin was home to a family of previously enslaved farmers during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Excavated by a joint project between UT, TxDOT, and two private firms from 2007-2009, the Ransom Williams collection provides an in-depth view into the lives of previously enslaved Texans. More than 26,000 artifacts were recovered during this project, which also included historic records research and oral history interviews with descendants.

The artifacts represent a wide range of activities, from the farming and homestead activities that supported the family to their education and leisure preferences. Overall they paint a picture of a hardworking family that was able to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Learn more about the Ransom and Sarah Williams Farmstead

collection on Texas Beyond History

Download the coloring page by clicking the text below:

Ransom Williams Coloring Page

Colors of the Past: Hunter’s Pouch from Horseshoe Ranch Cave

This week’s new coloring page features one of the most spectacular finds in the history of Texas archeology: a woven pouch found with more than 200 unique artifacts still contained inside. The pouch was found by archeologists working in Horseshoe Ranch Cave in West Texas in 1936. They found the pouch wrapped in a larger bundle of woven matting and rabbit fur, and removed it to the lab in Austin to be opened there.

The contents of the pouch appear to be the toolkit of a hunter, healer, or shaman, with various types of tools, toolmaking gear, and special objects. These objects were made and used by an indigenous inhabitant of the area more than 4,000 years ago!

Learn more about the Hunter’s Pouch on Texas Beyond History. 

Download the coloring page by clicking the text below:

Hunter’s Pouch Coloring Page

 

 

2020 Texas Archeology Month Preperations

 

October 10th from 10 AM to 2 PM at the JJ Pickle Research Campus of UT Austin. 

TAM FAIR UPDATE 

The Texas Archeology Month Fair scheduled for October 10th 2020 is canceled due to concerns around the pandemic. In lieu of the fair, TARL is releasing a series of archeology-related content to be released on a rolling basis through the entire month of October. While we are saddened that we can not host the in-person fair, we are delighted to be able to celebrate the rich history of Texas all month long! Virtual content will include a variety of archeological related coloring books, virtual story time for kids hosted by BookPeople, Texas Archeology activities in your own backyard, videos highlighting TARL’s collections and research opportunities, and virtual brown bag discussions led by professional archeologists in our community. To end the celebration of archeology month, we will be hosting a virtual pumpkin carving competition on Halloween! Something is available for archeology enthusiasts of all ages!

For four years, we have had the great pleasure of hosting the Texas Archeology Month Fair. A variety of organizations, institutions and companies have contributed interactive experiences through an assortment of archaeological displays and hands-on activities.  In celebration of the fifth year since the fair’s re-institution in 2016, we are bringing Austin an even bigger and better opportunity to engage with the history of Texas. Building on the successes of previous fairs, the 2020 fair will provide even greater opportunities for participation from the local Texas archeological community. At no cost to participate, this is an ideal opportunity for your organization to reach the public as an exhibitor or for your firm to donate in support of their outreach goals. Donations of just $100-$200 would go far in establishing the TARL Fair fund. Through contributions we will address the limitations from years past. We will secure stronger advertisement targeting our public audience and provide more appealing amenities. Among our already 26 confirmed exhibitors, we are delighted to announce new involvement from the Buffalo Soldiers and the larger Austin community with a classic Austinite array of food trucks. This extension of the fair is expected to attract a larger audience than previously reached in the fair’s recent history.

Update Summer 2020:

Along with our community, TARL has had to adjust in the current crisis and like our ancestors we adapt. Amidst these events we are still looking forward and in the deference of limited time for planning we are sharing our preparation progress and future plans for the 2020 Texas Archeology Month Fair. While we are planning for future normalcy we will continue to adjust with the ongoing situation. A contingency plan is already being formed in the event that the current COVID-19 crisis is still limiting public gatherings in the fall. In such a case, donors will be given the option of a reimbursement or the option for the funds to be retained for use in the following 2021 TAM fair. The TARL Fair fund is yet another way in which we are securing the future of the Fair as any contributions will be retained with the sole purpose of use in the future fair.  Our greatest commitment is to promote preservation and public edification of the great Texas archeological legacy. It would be our pleasure if you would join us in that endeavor.

Here at TARL we think Texas archaeology is a big deal. So please, help us celebrate archeology the Texas way!

The fair is free and open to the public. Tables and chairs will be provided for the exhibitors. More details will be provided over the next couple of months. For more information or inquiries into participation, please contact Annie Riegert at dariegert@utexas.edu and Clark Wernecke at Clark.Wernecke@austin.utexas.edu.