Materials: Paper/ Ink
This object is a passport that once belonged to Louis and Mary Finkel. This document helped allow the Finkel family to move from Russian controlled Lithuania to the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. They lived there for 16 years before finally immigrating to the United States and settling in Luling, Texas. Passports have been around for hundreds of years, and are important documents required for international travel. In the United States the first passports were issued around the time of the American Revolution. The passports were used to the people going to France with Benjamin Franklin.
In order to travel abroad United States citizens, are required to have a passport. Passports are needed for international travel by air, sea, or land. Today there are two different kinds of passports. Today there is the traditional passport book and a passport card. However, there have been many different types of passports over the years. While a passport book can be used for all types of international travel by air and by sea. The passport card is used for travel between the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. This card is not valid for international travel by air. A passport card is a good alternative for people living on the border and don’t want to spend the money on a passport book. A passport’s main objective is to identify a traveler as a citizen with a right to protection while abroad and a right to return to the country of his citizenship.
Louis Finkel, immigrated to the United States to join his brother Max in Luling, TX where he opened a dry goods store. Louis ran the store with his sons Harry and Larry Finkel, who later took over the business on their own, operating it through the 1960s. Lulling held a large Jewish population, but slowly the families moved away. The Finkels were one of the last remaining Jewish families in Luling. Today the dry goods store building is no longer exists, after being destroyed in a fire in the year 2000. The lot however, is now used as the location for the watermelon seed spitting contest in the annual Watermelon Thump Festival.
For information about attaining a U.S. passport, the Finkel family and Luling, Texas visit the links below. [Rebecca Gonzales, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Levine Brothers General Merchandise
These two silver colored metal coins were once valued at five cents at the Levine Brothers General Merchandise in Sealy, Texas. The unique scalloped edges and Levine Brothers print suggest these coins were developed specifically for the Levine Brothers store. Their store sold mostly general goods, and many early photos from the University of Texas at San Antonio digital collection document the Levine Brothers General Merchandise as a clothing store. In the small town of Sealy, Texas business and industry was not uncommon. Established in 1879 this 10.2 square mile town eventually became the home of the Sealy Mattress Company thanks to cotton gin builder Daniel Haynes. While the Levine Brothers General Merchandise may not have the recognizable name of Sealy Mattress, these coins in the Institute of Texan Cultures collection will maintain part of the history and legacy of the family store. These coins are unique for not only being of monetary value but also being commemorative in nature.
The commemorative coin revolution in the United States was sparked by Texas’ very own Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1966 Johnson signed the American Revolution Bicentennial Bill on the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution. This bill was introduced in an effort to revive patriotism and national spirit. The commemoration of the American Revolution was designed to remind Americans and the world of the values of the Revolution, a struggle for freedom and liberty. The Bicentennial Bill was written in an effort to build national unity through celebrations, education and the commemorative coin. The commission appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson was composed of members of Congress, Attorney Generals, Senators and even archivists from the Smithsonian Institute. The commission worked to organize national celebrations, educational programs to teach more about the American Revolution in schools and design commemorative goods.
Commemorative coins are still produced to this day. The United States Mint (U.S Mint) alongside Congress establish commemorative coins in an effort to pay tribute to significant events and influential people throughout history. The funds raised by the sale of commemorative coins goes directly into our national museums, monuments and memorials. The first establishment of a committee to develop a monetary system for the United States was in 1776. The U.S Mint was later founded in 1792 to produce and archive our nation’s coins. The U.S. Mint is also a historical archive for many documents and artifacts beyond just the official commemorative coins of the United States.
Test your knowledge of the United States Mint history here!
While not all coins are officially recognized as commemorative by the U.S Mint, many are made symbolic by their use. The Military Challenge coin is symbolic for many branches of our military. Each division, squadron and even rank within those branches can have their own unique coin. As history tells, the military coin came about during World War I when a soldier was taken captive by German forces and striped of all forms of identification, except for a military coin he wore in a pouch around his neck. He disguised himself and escaped, but ran into French military forces who thought he was an undercover member of the German army. Without anything to prove his identity as an American he was bound to be shot when he remembered the coin around his neck, the only thing the Germans forces left him with. The French recognized the emblem on his coin as American and they spared his life. Other stories date these military coins back to the Civil War as tokens taken by men as a reminder of the war. Yet, today these coins are much more than tokens, they are carried with pride and sometimes traded to one another or given as gifts. Here is where the “challenge” comes from, men and women in the military will sometimes “challenge” one another to present their coin to ensure they always have it with them. If you are unable to present your coin the punishment is often up to the challenger.
Now why would a store have their own coin made? These Levine Brothers coins may be commemorative but given the value they represent it is more likely they were used as store credit for purchasing. During severe economic crisis many countries resort to a rationing system. They consider the resources their country has and the size of the population to determine how much each family will be given. During World War II the United States took to rationing food, oil and even farm equipment. The majority of the resources they had were being funneled into the war, people, machinery, oil and anything needed overseas. Thus, families would receive booklets of stamps that they would use to get goods from local stores. Vendors would in turn use ration coins, or rather tokens, to payout the difference to families using ration stamps. Tokens hold another value all of their own, one beyond the commemorative or monetary. Tokens are place holders for a monetary value. It’s possible that these Levine Brothers coins were manufactured during a time of rationing for customers to use to buy merchandise.While they are not official commemorative coins they are housed in the museum collection as pieces of a small town Texas family history. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]
RCA; Atwater Kent
Materials: Wood, metal, glass
This object is an RCA radio with an Atwater Kent speaker that attaches to the radio. There are a couple of different people credited as pioneers of the radio and include Henrich Hertz, Nikola Tesla, and Guglielmo Marconi, to list a few. As technology has evolved so has the appearance and use of the radio. This particular style of radio would have been primarily used within the home. It would have been a one way transmission which means that the radio would receive a signal from the nearest broadcasting tower, but would not be able to send a signal back.
The first major wireless communications were from ships at sea to other ships or land-based stations. However, since voice transmission was not yet available these messages would be sent by coded dots and dashes also known as Morse Code. Morse Code worked by assigning letters and numbers a set of dots and dashes. Letters used often would get a simple code, while letters less used would get a more complex code. As radio correspondence between ships became more available, questions regarding correspondence were raised. A major debate at the time was the number of operators working on these ships, and after the sinking of the Titanic, the Radio Act of 1912 was passed. This act made sure that all radio operators on the ships would have licenses to operate the radios and that radios would be under constant watch 24 hours a day.
Once the long distance transmission of a human voice and music was made possible, radios started to be used as a form of entertainment. The period between the 1920s and 1930s is considered the golden age of radio. It was during this time the radio broadcast of comedies, dramas, variety shows, and popular music gathered millions of listeners. The large audience resulted from radios being made smaller and less expensive. Having a radio in the living room was as common as having a television today. Listening to the radio brought communities together and the audience also related to the heroes in the programs they listened to. Besides entertainment, the radio was used to listen to the news. One example of this was the Hindenburg disaster which was covered by radio reporter Herb Morrison. The radio was also used to listen to Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, a series of presidential speeches aired on the radio. These speeches made the public feel closer to the President in a whole new way.
One popular company who produced radios was the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) which was formed in 1919 and the brand of the radio shown here. A. Atwater Kent the man who the speaker is named after, was an inventor and owner of the largest radio factory in Pennsylvania. The Atwater Kent Company produced a number of different models of radios and at one point was the world leader in radios. Kent spent more than $500,000 on advertising for his radios, at the time a huge sum, and he even had his own radio show called The Atwater Kent Hour, which was one of the most popular shows on the radio.
As television became more popular many of the shows that people listened to on the radio moved to the television screen. However, radio has not been completely taken over by television and it is estimated that 95% of Americans listen to the radio at least once a week. As radio platforms continue to change one thing is for sure, the radio has come a long way. [Abby Goode, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Material: Paper and ink
The history behind the S.B. Penick & Company, that produced this apothecary box of Elm Bark Powder, is a perfect example of the innovative use of resources produced by the environment of the United States. Slippery Elm Bark was used to make tea from to sooth a sore mouth or other common internal ailments. Slippery Elm Bark gets its name for the inner layer of the tree bark being so slippery. This tree can be found in parts of the Northeast, along the east coast and even into parts of central Texas. S.B Penick came out of modest beginnings collecting and gathering botanicals for herbal remedies from the woods and fields of his Southeastern home. Long before professional doctors, hospitals and drug stores in the United States remedies were made from resources found in nature and administered by a family member, local medicine man or an appointed town physician. Peddlers known as ‘herb doctors’ would sell plants and herbs to settlements to cure everything from internal ailments to common cuts and bruises.
S.B Penick was more of an ‘herb doctor’ until World War I when his skills at producing remedies from plants were needed more than ever. Thus, S.B Penick & Company was founded. S.B. Penick used the plants supplied by his environment to produce botanical pharmaceuticals, medicine made from plants. This company would grow to be one of the largest botanical pharmaceutical producing companies by the 1960s. Unfortunately for the S.B Penick Company, botanical pharmaceuticals had been on a steady decline over the years after the Food and Drug Act was established in 1906, putting into question herbal remedies. It took time for this act to spread to the masses but it did so through trained doctors questioning the effectiveness of the herbal remedies.
With a declining market for their products, the S.B. Penick & Company would go out of business along with much of the botanical pharmaceutical industry. The decline was not only because natural plant based medicines were not working but also they were just not as profitable as the newer chemical medicines. The company was split apart for assets with only Penick Pharmaceuticals remaining and being bought in 1988. This portion of the company survived because it kept working and changing with the times, focusing on inorganic medicines that were being used and purchased more by hospitals and doctor’s offices. Further hardships would fall upon the company when they had to file for bankruptcy in 1994 but the Penick name and the use of plants and other natural resources, like Slippery Elm Bark, continues to be used in the United States to this day.
It seems remarkable that such a small box of an all-natural medical remedy could tell such a big story, but it’s the story behind these seemingly simple items that can stir our memories and ignite our imaginations. This paper and ink box of Elmwood bark beckons us to consider our earliest days of exploring our environment’s resources. Challenge yourselves to imagine the possibilities in the simplest things, you’d be surprised what you may learn. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Materials: Paper, Pen, Ink
Art played a significant role during World War II; it was used in the United States to bring people together against a common enemy and to show Americans what they were fighting for. Posters, comics and advertisements once used to market items or make people laugh started to be used to market political agendas, leaders or causes. Collections of art, most significantly propaganda from the WWII era, are significant pieces of history because one can see what society was like at that time. They expose cultural ideals through how they motivated people to join the war, support their military or even hate the enemy. This object is a pen and ink print of the notable ‘Buz Sawyer’ drawn by cartoonist Roy Crane. The ‘Buz Sawyer’ cartoon was one of the first of its kind, as cartoons were no longer just for laughs but were meant to talk about the war and depict realistic circumstances.
Roy Crane, was raised in Sweetwater, Texas. Son of a lawyer and schoolteacher, he was educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago as well as the University of Texas and went on to be a talented cartoonist. His first published piece was the cartoon strip, ‘Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune’. Beautifully crafted the ‘Captain Easy’ story-lines were made to make the viewers laugh. This cartoon strip was published each and every Sunday until Crane felt his artistic nature being stifled by the limitations of the newspaper he was working for. He eventually left the Sunday newspaper pages of Cleveland for King Features in 1943 and put to paper his own experiences as a traveler drafting ‘Buz Sawyer’.
Crane, wanted to be the first cartoonist to create realistic plots and depictions of the war. He wanted to animate history and adventure, and believed ‘Buz Sawyer’ would do just that. This character was depicted as a WWII Navy pilot, clean cut and well behaved, a figure of American patriotism, courage and discipline. A more risky character, Rosco Sweeny, the comic relief of the strip, of course accompanied Buz. Roy Crane would influence other artists with the ‘Buz Sawyer’ comic strip to also tell action adventure stories rather than humor alone. As WWII ended so did the adventurous war stories of Buz Sawyer and Rosco Sweeney. Crane would follow the experiences of Americans at the time and as men came home from war so did Buz Sawyer. The strip did not end with Buz’s return home but the story-lines did become more serious and focused on family life after the war.
Cartoons are both history and art made for the public audience. Cartoons such as ‘Buz Sawyer’ can be looked at by historians to examine time and place. The time in which they are written can be reflected in characters, buildings or clothing. Cartoons even can be used to teach history and current events, they spark conversation and innovation; cartoons are tools to teach the masses, because they are written for them. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
The object above is a relief designed by Frank Maurer. A relief is any sculpted design that is raised or lowered from a flat background. This relief shows an armadillo, longhorn and a Celtic symbol in the lower left-hand corner with the date 1998-2010. Frank Maurer designed this piece using only a mallet and chisel. The relief was to celebrate April 6th, National Tartan Day. National Tartan Day recognizes the anniversary of the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, signed in 1320.
National Tartan Day was first observed in the United States in 1997 and declared a National Holiday by George W. Bush during his presidency in 2008. When first hearing the word Tartan some may find it odd, this might be because they do not know what a tartan is. A tartan is a unique woven pattern often found on plaid cloth. Tartans are designed for many uses such as traditional kilts, scarves, and ties. Each tartan is unique and often is named after a Scottish clan. However, associating tartans with clans didn’t start until the 17th century. Recognizing tartans as clan specific was a tactic to distinguish the woven designs for sales purposes, rather than using the original numbering system they had in place. The Scottish Tartans Museum has a collection of books cataloging some of the tartans and the clans they represent. In 1989 Texas recognized its first official tartan, the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan, inspired by the bluebonnets of Texas. More information on the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan can be found here. Tartans are often worn at organized Highland Games and festivals such as Tartan Day.
Canada recognized National Tartan Day years before the United States. Celebrating National Tartan Day is important to Texas because of the influence the Scottish people had on Texas. Many of the counties in Texas have names with Scottish origin and were populated by many early Scottish-Americans. The most famous founding fathers of Texas, Davey Crockett and Sam Houston, were Scottish Americans as well as the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B Johnson.
This relief is a great example of the unity of Scottish Heritage and Texan culture. The classic longhorns and armadillo are common images representing Texas. The stone itself is natural limestone from the state. The Celtic symbol in the lower left hand corner is still commonly used by the Scottish and Irish. The Celtic knot symbol is called the triquetra, and consists of three interlocking rings that over centuries have been thought to represent different unities: Body-Mind-Soul, Earth-Sea-Sky and more commonly today the Holy Trinity, Father-Son-Holy Ghost. The artist Frank Maurer is known for traveling the United States creating a series of these wonderful reliefs for states to commemorate National Tartan Day. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Ysleta del Sur, TX
Material: Leather, paint and wood
This object is a Tigua drum. The Tigua community is based out of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and is located in El Paso, Texas. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, like many other Native American settlements, is recognized as a sovereign nation, even though it is located inside Texas. The Tigua tribe was one of the last tribes to be officially recognized in the United States. This was due to their rich agricultural economy, which sustained them and they found no urgency in being recognized. It was not until the State of Texas threatened to annex Ysleta del Sur from El Paso and subject the Tigua to higher property taxes, that they moved to be officially recognized as a surviving Native American tribe. The Tigua are dedicated to preserving their history and cultural traditions. The core values of the tribe today are centered on culture, tradition, teachings of ancestors and sustaining land resources.
The Tigua however, were not always part of Texas. Originally from New Mexico their ancestral homeland was the Quarai Pueblo. However, due to drought the Tigua were forced to leave the Quarai Pueblo, and looked for refuge at the Isleta Pueblo. However, the biggest threat to the Pueblo tribes were at the time were the Spanish who had begun settling the land. Spanish colonists were moving into the Southwest and taking advantage of the resources provided by the land. The Pueblo tribes felt threatened by the colonists and in 1680 banded together to drive out the Spanish. This is known as the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. During the revolt some of the Tigua were captured and were forced to retreat with the Spaniards, walking 400 miles south. Two years later, in 1682, Ysleta del Sur was established near El Paso. To differentiate between the first Isleta Pueblo they gave Yselta del Sur the letter Y.
The Tigua took on many Spanish customs after losing most of their land and relocating. One example of a Spanish custom the Tigua adopted pertained to leadership and family in the community. The Tigua were originally matrilineal, meaning leadership and authority was passed on in the family through the mother’s bloodline. But over time they became patrilineal which focuses on the father’s bloodline. A modern example of how patrilineal customs work is the practice of a woman taking the last name of the man she marries. The Tigua also took on Catholic marriage traditions. Often when two cultures come together neither lose all traditions but rather combine traits and sometimes form new ones.
Today, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo consist of about 1,700 tribal members. Many Pueblo tribes maintain economic stability by selling craft goods and art, but the Tigua still have a thriving agricultural economy. This drum has a hand-painted design on the rawhide drumhead. The central red and yellow pattern represents a sun which is a common Tigua design, as they are known as the people of the sun. Traditional Tigua designs are full of images of the landscape, people or animals. Today the community is making every effort to maintain some of the traditional customs of the Tigua. The crafting and playing of drums, like this one, help them practice their traditional crafts and harvest dances while also educating a wider audience about their history.
To learn more about different cultural groups in Texas visit the Institute of Texan Cultures. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Liebmann, Matthew, T. J. Ferguson, and Robert W Preucel. 2005. “Pueblo Settlement, Architecture, and Social Change in the Pueblo Revolt Era, A.D. 1680 to 1696”. Journal of Field Archaeology. 30, no. 1: 45-60.
United States of America
Early 20th Century (1950’s)
Materials: Faux Fur, Cloth, Stuffing
Just as there are human celebrities, there is also animal celebrities. You may have heard of the animal celebrity depicted by this object. This artifact at the Institute of Texan Cultures is a stuffed animal toy from the 1950’s that represents one of the most famous animal stars of all time: Lassie!
Who is Lassie?
Lassie is the name of a fictional character that was created by Eric Knight for his short story “Lassie Come-Home” published in 1940. The story was first published in 1940, and chronicled the journey of a lost dog traveling hundreds of miles across the United Kingdom, sometimes over rough terrain to be reunited with her family. Lassie is portrayed in the book and subsequent media as a rough collie, a herding dog breed known for its loyalty and devotion, intelligence, and long fur. A collie with short fur is known as a smooth collie.
What is Lassie famous for?
“Lassie Come Home” won the prestigious Young Reader’s Choice Award in 1943. That same year, the first film based on the book was released in the United States. A story of Lassie has captured the hearts of children and adults alike and still remains popular, 75 years later. In total there have been eleven films, five live action television shows, three animated television shows, a radio show and even a Japanese manga spin-off. The Lassie character became extremely popular during the original television show titled Lassie which debuted in 1954 and continued until 1973! It was during this time that the name Lassie became a household name.
Due to the immense popularity of the show Lassie memorabilia popped up in the form of books, comics, cards, magazines, clothing, accessories, “autographs” in the form of a paw print, photos and limited edition dog supplies. These items have now become prized collectibles for super-fans of the show and the story. Lassie even has an official fan club that’s still going strong!
Who played the character Lassie?
Though the character of Lassie was a female collie, the dog who portrayed the character was actually a male collie named Pal. Pal lived with his owner and Hollywood dog trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. Pal starred as Lassie in seven franchise movies and two television episodes. When the Lassie show started airing on television in 1954, Pal retired comfortably from show business and was very happy to let his son, Lassie Junior play the part.
Today, the Weatherwax family continues to train Hollywood dogs for show business, and the 10th generation direct descendent of Pal (who is his great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson) continues to make public appearances and complete charity work on behalf of the Lassie family as Lassie himself. [Caira Spenrath, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Materials: Wood, Paper, Ink
Various cultures around the world have used handheld fans throughout the centuries. However, in Asia they are also important artifacts that are found in nearly all aspects of culture, from entertainment to art and even military use. This particular object is a Japanese folding fan that features a seascape and image of Mount Fuji (foo-jee).
What makes a Japanese folding fan unique?
The handheld Japanese folding fan, or sensu (sehn-soo), came about in Kyoto during the Heian period of Japan. Often called Japan’s Golden Age, the Heian period spanned hundreds of years of relative peace for the country that allowed for a greater development of the arts and poetry. The Heian period is also when the Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu, and today many scholars believe it to be the first novel in the world! During this time, handheld folding fans were invented in Japan and became popular with the Japanese Imperial Court. Over time the Japanese folding fan has evolved as an integral piece of Japanese culture.
What are/were Japanese folding fans used for?
Japanese folding fans have served various functions over the centuries. Of course, they were used as most fans are used: to help keep someone cool! In Japan, the summers and rainy seasons can be very hot and humid. For this reason, Japanese folding fans are very popular accessories at outdoor festivals and places without air conditioning such as ryokan (ree-yo-kahn)—traditional Japanese homes and hotels. Historically, Japanese folding fans were also important because they were used to write notes and communicate with others via letters and poetry on the fans (paper was an expensive commodity back then, so nothing was wasted.) Large, colorful fans were used to decorate the homes of those that could afford them, and the Japanese military even used colorful fans as signaling flags! Japanese folding fans are also used in many forms of traditional Japanese ceremonies and entertainment such as the Japanese Tea Ceremony and kabuki (kah-boo-kee) theater. Over time, people decided to decorate their fans, and the practice led to a vibrant artist market specifically for such. This Japanese folding fan at the Institute of Texan Cultures is vibrantly printed with a scene of the ocean in front of Mount Fuji.
What is Mount Fuji?
Mount Fuji— also known as Fujisan (foo-jee-sahn) in Japanese—is the tallest natural geologic formation in Japan. It stands 12,380 feet tall, and even though it’s called a mountain, Mount Fuji is actually an active volcano! One of the most famous symbols of Japan, Mount Fuji is only about sixty miles away from Japan’s capital city Tokyo. Mount Fuji is arguably Japan’s most popular tourist destination for international and domestic tourists alike. However, the popular significance of Mount Fuji is not a modern phenomenon.
Over millennia, Mount Fuji has also been seen as a sacred place within the Japanese religion of Shinto. Shintoism places great importance on the various spirits and gods, also known as kami (kah-mee), that are believed to inhabit everything within the natural world. Mount Fuji features many Shinto shrines, with the most prominent being the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha at the base of the Mount Fuji hiking trail. It’s been said that many famous and important people in Japanese history such as Minamoto Yoritomo, Hojo Yoshitoki and Tokugawa Ieyasu have traveled there and prayed to the gods at the base of Mount Fuji. Surrounded by a large forest and five lakes, one can easily see how Mount Fuji could inspire folding fan artists to try and capture the cooling image of Mount Fuji’s natural beauty!
Today, Japanese folding fans are very popular accessories that can serve multiple purposes—a prop in a play or dance; a means to keep the summer heat at bay; or even as a secret way to write letters! Regardless of use, today Japanese folding fans come in a wide range of colors and designs that further the popularity of Japanese culture. [Caira Spenrath, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]
Artist(s): (Possibly) Maria and Julian Martinez
San Ildefonso Pueblo
We have a pottery mystery here at the Institute of Texan Cultures. This piece of pottery was given to the museum with little historical background provided. After cataloging, photographing and inspecting its condition, a signature was found on the bottom and it appears to read: Marie + Julian. These are the names of one of the most famous producing pottery couples out of the southwest. They were masters of their craft, perfecting techniques that others today can only aspire to match. Yet, for being masters of their craft this pot is a bit underwhelming. It does not have the quality most commonly associated with Marie + Julian pottery. Thus, we must investigate further.
First we should start with what we know about the piece of pottery we have in the museum collection. In analyzing the piece we need to make note of as many details as we can, because no matter how big or small they could be a clue. Notice the color, shape and designs. Each of these characteristics can help identify where a piece of pottery came from. For example, the southwest is well known for its elaborately decorated pottery. Some pieces have distinctive designs, some are made of characteristic types of clay or finishes, others have symbolic shapes such as the wedding vase. The shape of a wedding vase is a symbol of unity, the unity between a man and a woman. It has a large round base for liquid and two spouts for the couple to drink from. This pot is 6 x 8.5 inches, black, with evidence of design work on the upper shoulder of the pot. The inside was left unfinished and there are signatures on the bottom of the pot that looks like Marie + Julian.
Maria and Julian Martinez are legendary names amongst potters, avid collectors and museums. Maria Martinez grew up in San Ildefonso Pueblo, just twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. San Ildefonso has a rich history with evidence dating back to as early as 1300 A.D. The San Ildefonso people had many struggles over the years, from an uprising in 1696 to later colonial encounters that would spread illness through the pueblo, such as smallpox and pandemics like the 1918 Spanish flu. A once thriving population was diminished to only ninety by 1918. Arts and crafts became essential to the San Ildefonso economy soon after during the 1920s as they lacked the people and resources to maintain a thriving agricultural economy. The influence and attention that Maria and Julian’s pottery brought to the community helped build the reputation of an otherwise suffering San Ildefonso Pueblo.
Maria Martinez learned traditional pottery techniques of the area from her family as a young girl. Later in an effort to prefect her craft, she studied the excavated pottery from local archaeological sites. Maria alongside her husband Julian Martinez would spend their lives designing and teaching pottery to others. The two married in 1897. Maria and Julian Martinez were a perfect team. Maria focused on making the pieces of pottery themselves while Julian would paint and add detailed designs to the pieces. Julian Martinez is known for mastering the technique that creates the black on black finish you see on this object.
Maria Martinez…San Ildefonso Pueblo video:
The inscription seems like a dead giveaway that this piece of pottery must be a work of Marie and Julian Martinez. The signature even has the ‘+’ symbol that is typical of their pieces produced between 1925 and 1943. Yet, the history of Maria Martinez signing pottery is a long one. When Maria and Julian first began producing pottery they didn’t sign their work. Even after they did start signing their works, the style of the signature would periodically change. Maria, while not officially changing her name, would sometimes sign her name “Marie.” It is said she was advised to do so because Marie was a more commonly recognized English name and Julian’s name was omitted entirely at first because pottery making was the work of women. As their work developed and gain notoriety they began to sign each piece ‘Marie + Julian’ and this would remain their signature until 1943 when Julian Martinez passed away. Marie surrounded by the support of her children would continue to make pottery with her daughter-in-law and son who took on the black on black design work of his father.
The following video can tell you more about Maria Martinez signatures.
Compared to many of the pieces of pottery by Maria and Julian Martinez the craftsmanship of this piece is lacking. The black on black design is barely recognizable at first glance and has a rough, raised and bubbled look to it. This might be the result of damage, or simply a “bad batch” made of lesser quality materials or due to a problem with the firing conditions. The signature indicates that it couldn’t be one of their earlier works, when they were still learning their craft, as those pieces would have been unsigned. Of course, due to the popularity and value of Maria pottery, this piece could also be an attempted forgery. Unfortunately we don’t always get all the details when objects are donated as museum artifacts, and many authentications must be based on expert opinions. Without further research, we can only say that this piece might have been made by Maria and Julian Martinez. What do you think? Is this a Maria Martinez original? Let us know by writing a comment below! [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]