Maria Montoya Martinez is recognized the world over as a matriarch of Native American pottery. As a young girl she would watch her aunt Nicolassa make pottery and was encouraged to try various techniques and styles. As a teenager, she would spend time at Santa Clara pueblo with her friend, Sara Fina Tafoya, where she was surrounded by potters.
In 1904 she married Julian Martinez, a painter who was one of the first Rio Grande artists. That year they demonstrated pottery making at the St. Louis Worlds' Fair, where they sold their pots for $1 a piece. About 1912 she learned to make plain black pottery and in about 1919 Julian invented the black-on-black decoration which he taught to the other San Ildefonso potters beginning in 1921. Maria would form the pots and Julian would paint the designs.
After Julian died in 1943. Maria's younger son Popovi Da continued decorating Maria's pottery. Between 1943 and 1956 Maria worked with her daughter-in-law. Santana. Maria Martinez continued to live in New Mexico at the San Ildefonso pueblo until her death.
Pottery created by Maria and Julian is among the most desirable of Native American pottery. Their work is found in many prestigious museums, as well as public and private collections all over the world.