Shaped By Her Hands

Shaped by Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez, by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, Illustrated by Aphelandra, Albert Whitman & Co.

This beautiful biography tells the story of Maria Martinez, a Tewa Potter. When Maria was a young girl, the Tewa tradition of san-away was dying out. Many people were buying tinware from factories instead of making their own clay pots in the traditional Tewa way. But Maria’s Aunt Nicolasa taught her to shape pots from clay, water, and volcanic ash. “She wanted Maria to know how to makes pots to store seeds and grains in, so their Tewa traditions would live on.”

The illustrations beautifully portray how learning the art of pot-making connected Maria to “the many generations of potters who had come before” her. The story follows Maria as she grows up, goes to school, marries, has her own children, and continues to develop her clay working skills. She eventually tries to recreate an ancient technique for firing black pots, and develops her own style of Blackware pottery that is soon recognized as magnificent art by others and sells quickly. So quickly, in fact, that Maria and her husband Julian need more help to meet the demand. So she teaches her friends and relatives to help and “Blackware flourishe[s] in San Ildefonso.”

Coming full circle, the story tells us how Maria grew from being a child who learned the tradition of san-away from her Aunt, to a grandmother teaching it to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. So the tradition continues for all Tewa people. The color pallet used for the illustrations is a vibrant mix that invokes the heat and beauty of the Southwest. The book also has some interesting back matter, including a note from author Barbara Gonzales, who is Maria and Julian’s eldest great-grandchild.

Note: I was given a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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