Born in either 1881 or 1887 (the exact year remains a mystery), Maria was the second child and eldest daughter of Tomas Montoya and Reyes Pena. Maria was given the Indian name Poveka which translates from Tewa as “Pond Lily.”
There have been many questions surrounding the actual year of Maria’s birth. Tribal records do not exist from that period and so church baptismal records become the sole surviving document. In 1957, Maria’s son, Popovi Da, began a process to determine the year of his mother’s birth. Differing sources showed her as having been born in 1881 or 1887. After much research this baptismal record was issued by the church showing her baptism (and presumed birth year) as being 1887.
Little is known of her early years although she was exposed to pottery making at an early age by several of her aunts. In particular, her mother’s sister, Nicolasa Pena Montoya, was a strong influence on and a teacher to Maria. By 1900, Maria was producing pottery for sale.
In 1904, she married Julian Martinez (1884-1943) and thus began a forty-year partnership in the making of pottery. Julian was named “Pocano” which is Tewa for “Coming of the Spirit.”
They would bring together their talents for pottery making, decoration and marketing and would forever change the history of pueblo arts.