Send Steve Where?: Couple creates traditional pueblo pottery | KOB 4

Send Steve Where?: Couple creates traditional pueblo pottery

Steve Soliz
September 29, 2017 06:15 AM

Send Steve where? This is the latest in a series to let new KOB anchor Steve Soliz learn New Mexico, and to give New Mexico a chance to get to know Steve. Send your suggestions on where Steve should visit at


SANTA FE COUNTY, N.M. -- Outside the San Ildefonso Pueblo near the foothills of the Jemez Mountains, Marvin Martinez keeps pueblo history alive through his pottery. He watched and learned from his grandfather.

"The pottery played a major role, especially in the ancient times, in trading for furs, feathers," he said. "I learned how to mix clay and how to form pottery so it was really, really ... in my generation, to take all that, I was very fortunate.”

Today, Martinez and his wife work to nourish those traditions. They use time-tested methods to create black-on-black pottery. They gather clay from the hills, load it into a wheelbarrow and return home. Martinez then spends hours crushing rocks that he will then use to make his clay.

"No measuring," he said. "You're just eyeballing it."

Demonstrating how it works, Martinez adds water to his clay and mixes both by hand.

"We have to work the air bubbles out," he said.

Martinez said he and his wife work on each step together, which is not how previous generations divvied up the work. In those days, women made pottery while men painted them.

After shaping the pottery and allowing it to dry, Martinez picks up a brush to give the pieces traditional designs and historical character.

"The two most traditional designs, of course, is the eagle feather and then the rain serpent," he said.

Martinez uses a mixture of water and red clay for his paint. Once the paint is dry, the pottery heads to the fire. They cover the mess trays with a thick layer of cow chips.

"These cow chips are going to provide heat and insulation," he said.

The fire burns for an hour before another ingredient is added: horse manure. The carbon in the manure is what turns the pottery from this color to this color.

"It's grounded, it's dried and we poured it on there to smother it to oxidize the pottery from the red to the black," Martinez said. "When we pull them out and we see that they're black, black, it makes everything worthwhile."

Making black on black pottery isn't easy, taking about three weeks to complete a batch. But Martinez said the end result is beyond rewarding.

"It keeps my heart going to see that I can produce pottery," he said. "My wife Francis and I can produce pottery together as they did as a team, and I think that it keeps our spirit high. Our hearts content and it gives other people the happiness that it continues."


Steve Soliz

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