Treasure: Pottery has markings of Maria Martinez piece

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Regular viewers of PBS’s Antiques Roadshow may be familiar with the pottery of Maria Martinez, which has been featured a number of times. Until recently, however, a piece has never been submitted to this column for appraisal, so we were excited to see the black-on-black pottery at a recent session held at Judy Frankel Antiques in Troy.

Linda Ventimiglia brought in a piece her dad purchased years ago that she later inherited. Independent appraiser Brian Thomczek took a closer look.

“During the ’30s and ’40s my dad frequently traveled out west from our home in Michigan, first as a chauffeur and then to move our family to California. During his travels he purchased many souvenirs, among them a black on black piece of pottery,” she explained in her email.

“Recently, during a trip out west, my husband and I were in a souvenir shop where there were many pieces of similar pottery. I mentioned to the proprietor that I had inherited a black on black pottery bowl from my dad which was very like the ones he had for sale. The gentleman told me to check the bottom of the pot and see if it was signed by Maria Martinez, who was the first to create that type of pottery. He said that it could be worth quite a bit. When we got home, I checked the pot and the bottom said “Marie and Julian.” I checked online and saw that Julian was her husband and that she used to sign her name as Marie.”

She shared additional information as Thomczek examined the small, 31/2- by 6-inch piece more closely. “We’ve had it forever, but I have no idea what he paid originally. After he passed away, we divided things up with my sisters and I said, ‘Gee, I’ve always liked that bowl.’”

Like many of Martinez’s piece, the pottery has part matte and part gloss glazing. Thomczek filled her in on the artist, who he says sometimes signed her works “Marie” instead of Maria and did indeed include the name of her husband, Julian. “It looks to me like your piece says Marie and Julian, which would be right,” he told her. He filled her in on Martinez (1994-1980), who was so admired for her skill, he says, that she was invited to the White House a number of times and is considered one of the 20th century’s most influential Native Americans.

More details were found at the website, which says she was of Tewa heritage of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and learned to make pots as a child from her aunt.

“Beginning with clay dishes she made for her playhouse, Maria was known as a potter among her peers. In 1908, Dr. Edgar Hewett, New Mexico archaeologist and director of the Laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe, had excavated some 17th century black pottery shards and, seeking to revive this type of pottery, Hewett was led to Maria. Through trial and error, Maria rediscovered the art of making black pottery,” it states. “Maria, who made but never painted the pottery, collaborated with her husband Julian, who not only assisted in the gathering of the clay and the building the fire, and, most importantly, painting the motif on the pottery. Julian painted Maria’s pottery until his death in 1943.”

Thomczek praised the piece despite its small amount of surface ware, saying that the piece would bring at least $500. He dated it to the late 1930s-early 1940s and said that it would bring $1.200-$1,500 retail, less at auction, if she could have it authenticated by someone who specializes in Martinez and pottery. “It depends a lot on what the market is like for the work at the time,” he told her.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: Pottery

Submitted by: Linda Ventimiglia

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value: $500 at up at auction