New Mexican Potter Featured in the Smithsonian

R. Diane Martinez is a renowned potter out of Gallup, New Mexico. Her works are collected worldwide and displayed in museums throughout the country.

Every single one of her pieces are entirely unique and special. The animal figurines and bowls have Native American symbols painted on them and there are never two designs alike. Many of the pots she crafts have designs on the inside of them as well. Each design is done completely free hand, from start to finish.

According to Ron Shipp, ceramics professor at ENMU, traditional black ware is accomplished by coating an unfired pot with a specially refined red slip called terra sigillata. The pot is fired surrounded by wood and cow chips (buffalo chips were used previously). When it has fired long enough, the pots are smothered under sand and ashes to cool slowly. This traps the smoke and deprives the hot pots of oxygen which causes the iron oxide in the formerly red slip to turn black. The burnished body stays glossy, but the unburnished decoration is flat black. The high sheen of old black ware goes away if you fire it too hot. Martinez uses higher fire temperatures on her pots by using a high fire glossy glaze and a high fire flat glaze or underglaze.

Martinez has been using her unique contemporary style of black ware since 1979. She began making pottery after she had her second daughter. After receiving third place for two pots she entered in a county fair she thought, “I could do this.”

Entirely self-taught, Martinez did not have her own kiln in the beginning. A kiln is a large cylindrical oven that gets up to dangerously high temperatures in order to harden the clay. She fired pots traditionally outside at first or would pay a friend to fire them for her, however she now has two of her very own.

Her entire family is extremely supportive of her career including her seven siblings, husband, Robert Martinez, children and grandchildren. Martinez has four daughters, one son and six grandchildren. They all enjoy visiting ‘grandma’ and often play in her studio while she works.

“They love to sit in my lap while I paint. They have a blast here,” she said.

Martinez’s husband Robert has a very active career also, spending his time woodworking and participating in team roping. The couple has a roping arena and many animals. During events and sales such as the Peanut Valley Festival in Portales, New Mexico it is not uncommon to see Diane or Robert traveling by themselves in order to have someone at home to keep up with the chores.

She was born and raised in Gallup, NM, and growing up she participated in sports and clubs in high school including track, gymnastics, girls’ tackle football. She was also involved in the school yearbook, played flute in band, and was a member of the National Honors’ Society.

Martinez has been in Bosque Farms for forty years now, which is where her studio is located. Martinez is so dedicated to her work that she spends more time out in the studio than she does in the house.

Her Native American roots contribute to her inspiration for her pieces. As a federally recognized Tarahumara Indian, she incorporates many different Native American symbols into her art. She includes written details with her pieces explaining the art work. On larger pieces, she writes down the story that the piece tells, while on smaller pieces she tells the story.

Martinez has won many major awards for her art, including the first place for 36 years at the New Mexico State fair for Native American. Her work can be found is displayed in Eiteljorg Indian Art Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana and in the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Her work has also been displayed in the Smithsonian.

Only 30 artists from all over the Americas are chosen for the Smithsonian show. Her initial reaction when she was chosen for the Smithsonian was “ecstatic, over the top.” The first time her work was showcased was in 2014, when she showed a wide variety of pieces.

“To get picked twice is really cool,” Martinez said. She will be showing her work there this year from December 2-4, 2016.

Martinez makes a presence every year in Portales at the Peanut Valley Festival. She has a big following of return customers from this area. She said that many people in Portales have become like a family to her.

Jan and Web Smartnick are two of the Portales residents that have become close with Martinez. According to Jan, they have purchased some of Martinez’s work every year that she has been at the Peanut Festival. Web said that the most expensive piece they have purchased of hers was about $750. Regarding Diane and her husband Robert, the Smartnicks see them as really good friends, really good people, and that they have a beautiful family.

Jan’s favorite piece of Martinez’s that she owns is a Kachina doll of a “watermelon man.” Koshari Clown Dancer Kachina dolls are figures that represent Koshari Clown Dancers. These dancers’ actions are considered humorous and they normally have watermelons, eating out of them during ceremonies.

“Purchasing Diane Martinez’s work is an investment, especially if you buy some of the bigger pieces. Her style of pottery is beautiful and her work will not be going away for a while,” said Jan Smartnick.

All of Martinez’s pieces tell a story and are all unique. She is the only permanent potter in the Santa Fe Plaza, and sells there every day. One piece can take an entire week or a month, with the majority of the time spent working on it invested in the painting and designs.

Martinez said that she continues to enter for awards to get her work known. Many people have invested in potters and invested in her and, and creating more art is one of the ways she says thank you for everything everyone has done for her.

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