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María: The Potter of San Ildefonso by Alice…

María: The Potter of San Ildefonso (1948)

by Alice Marriott

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An excellent biography by an ethnographer, based on conversations with the subject, ending in 1943 with the death of Maria's husband. Maria was born in the 1880's, a time when there were many changes in Native American life due to encroaching white (Anglo) society. As a child she was attracted to learning pottery making from her aunt. Apparently children were given freedom to follow their inclinations--her older sister loved farming & horses and so spent her days helping their father.
Rather than telling us how the culture was run, we see by example the conversational pauses and suggestions rather than direct criticism of a person. Even so, Maria chooses to marry Julian despite her parents cautions & the cultural norm of parents choosing the children's spouses. The norm is upheld by the parents acceptance & participation in exchanges with Julian's family. While Julian had good qualities, he was not as tied to the land, preferring working away rather than farming. He had a good mind, could puzzle out details & drawings without writing them down, and enjoyed figuring out new techniques which helped Maria make different pottery that tourists would buy. Maria enjoyed trading and selling, but was very shy around white strangers--no cause or explanation was given for that.
While Marriott describes Maria as gracious woman of strong character, we see how often Maria had to hold her feelings inside in order to meet the challenges in her life: when her daughter died, when her husband had to be away during that death, when her husband was drinking, when her sister became deaf.
It reads like a novel--very engrossing--but Maria's speech seems overly simple to me, especially when her replies to various people are given. There is little focus on her children, other than her daughter's brief life and death which so affected her & Julian. We learn about her later children only incidentally. It isn't clear how child care is arranged in the society. We do see how home ownership is transferred between family members, that there is often sharing of households, and there are a number of conversations where advice was given, which show us the cultural values.
The book includes a chronology of Maria's pottery making, details of the illustrated pottery, and a bibliography [quite dated, given the age of the book]. ( )
  juniperSun | Jul 31, 2013 |
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In memoriam Nicolasa Pena Montoya and Hinda Wood Cunningham
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So these things happened in the pueblo of San Ildefonso.  (Chapter 1)
Forward: Maria Montoya Martinez, or Marie Martinez, is a woman who has become in her own lifetime a legend.
Every woman has her own strength to do what she needs to do.  You have to know what kind of strength you have and how to use it. ...It takes strength to make your own plans and not to have somebody else make them for you all your life. (p. 95)
The village belongs to everybody, and we're all part of it.  If one family suffers, the whole pueblo suffers; if one family does well and is happy, then the whole pueblo should be doing better, too.  We all have to think about the others and about how to help them. (p. 140)
All of life is working in some way or another...We work at happiness and being well.  That's part of the job of being a whole person.  Becoming a grown man or woman depends on learning that and knowing and remembering it.  If you learn that part of the job, then you can do the rest with your own strength. (p. 148)
A woman had to be strong, Reyes had told her.  She must not let people know, ever, when she was being weak. (p. 242)
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Major events in the life of Maria Martinez and her husband Julian who revived the ancient Pueblo Indian craft of pottery-making.

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