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‘Atoms and Art’ celebrate local women

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By Tris DeRoma

On Feb. 1, during Los Alamos’ Creative Crawl, two cultures  came together at the Los Alamos History Museum to commemorate their relationship.

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“The exhibit kind of wrote itself,” said Heather McClenahan, executive director of the Los Alamos Historical Society. 

“Atoms and Art: the Intersecting Lives of Maria Poveka Martinez and Bernice Bidwell Brode” documents the early relationship between San Ildefonso Pueblo and Los Alamos through famous potter Maria Poveka Martinez and one of her

Los Alamos patrons, Bernice Bidwell Brode.

McClenahan said the pueblo and the museum felt there was a story between these two women that needed to be told.

The exhibit will be on display at the History Museum through spring.

A blessing in Tewa was given by Tim Martinez, Martinez’s nephew. Also attending was another one of Martinez’s distant relatives, San Ildefonso Gov. Perry Martinez.

Visitors to the exhibit will see the pottery that was created by Martinez and experience the creation of a relationship between the pueblo and Los Alamos through words and photographs.

The pottery for the exhibit was donated by Brode’s daughter-in-law Joanne Brode.

Tim Martinez hopes the donation will further solidify all that is good between the Pueblo of San Ildefonso and Los Alamos.

“It was an honor that the Brode family donated her work to the museum. It will be there for many years for people to share,” Tim Martinez said. “Looking at her pottery, it has a story. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, it brings people together. That’s what I see in her work today.”

Perry Martinez said he appreciated the museum’s efforts to take a snapshot of this particular time in history and put it on public display. He recalled that period being a more innocent time, a time when Los Alamos residents and lab employees were curious about their pueblo neighbors, and the pueblo was curious about Los Alamos.

“It gives you a perspective of how things happened back then in the early days and the interaction our pueblo had with the individuals that worked at Los Alamos,” Perry Martinez said. Perry Martinez’s great grandmother was Maria Martinez’s sister, Maximilia.

Because Los Alamos was a lot smaller in population back then, the relationship with the pueblo was a more familial one, according to the governor of the pueblo.

Brode accounts in her memoir, “Tales of Los Alamos”, which can be bought at the museum, how pueblo residents would invite the lab employees to learn their dances at the many parties and get-togethers that occurred back then between the two communities.

Time and circumstances have changed that relationship, according to Perry Martinez.

“Our relationship now is more of a business agreement relationship,” Perry Martinez said, although he also takes every opportunity to keep the door open for other types of exchanges with the lab, government officials and the community in general.

“I try to get them to experience our culture here at Pueblo de San Ildefonso,” Perry Martinez said, adding that some of the officials have already come to the pueblo’s feast days.

As for the Feb. 1 ceremony, Perry Martinez said it was very moving and nostalgic for him.

“I thought it was a really nice ceremony,” Perry Martinez said. “I also thought it was really nice to look at the pictures that were from way back when, to see who was who.” Perry Martinez recalled seeing his paternal grandfather in one of the many photos on display, Miguel Martinez.

“It was very interesting to see him in the pictures as well,”  Perry Martinez said.

At the time, Martinez was a skilled potter trained in the “black on black” type of pottery.  Martinez and her husband Julian revived the technique early in the twentieth century after a visiting archaeologist to the pueblo asked if the couple could replicate what the archaeologist found during an excavation on Pajarito Plateau.

“A lot of Maria’s descendants, as far as great grandkids, great great and great great great grandkids are potters to this day,” Perry Martinez said.

The museum at the pueblo also features her work, and they are also featured in art shows at the Santa Fe Plaza every weekend.