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Antiques Considered - February 3, 2010

Over the many years that I have participated in appraisers’ fairs, I have seen many memorable antiques and collectibles.  At the recent Saint Clement’s Island museum fair a lady came with one of the finest pieces of American Indian pottery I have seen. Her story that went with it was equally captivating.

Many years ago her grandmother knew the New Mexico tribal potter, Maria Martinez, whom she asked to make a pottery vase that she could have drilled and made into a table lamp.  When she got the pot, she liked it and decided not to have it drilled.  That decision today makes the pot worth thousands of dollars more than had she had gone the other way.
Maria Martinez was born in the San Ildefonso Pueblo about twenty miles from Santa Fe, probably in 1887. She married Julian Martinez and lived her entire life in the pueblo, dying in 1980.
She learned the art of potting from watching her aunt as a child, and learned the traditional ways that she reflected in her work for her lifetime.  In 1908 the archeological excavations in the pueblo brought to light pre-historic styles and techniques that she adapted to her own work.
Maria and Julian formed a pottery partnership, with her making the pots and him decorating them.  They exhibited at the Saint Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934.  The jet black finish is one of the most recognizable features of her pottery.
With the coming of tourists and art students, Maria enjoyed telling them about the traditions of the pueblo, and the techniques she used to make her wares.  Her fame spread and her pieces became internationally famous.  
In the case of this particular item, the owner’s documented story of the friendship between her grandmother and Maria greatly enhances the worth of the pot, which is in the thousands of dollars.  I have seen many pieces of American Indian pottery, but apart from those in museums, this is the finest.
Happy antiquing!
Lisa and Henry Lane Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont Hwy. (P.O. 35) Wicomico Church, VA 22570. Write to him there or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with pictures and descriptions of items.

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