Tony Da (1940-2008) Biography

Tony Da, (pronounced day) was the grandson of Maria and Julian Martinez, and the son of Popovi Da all were talented potters and masters in the art of watercolors.  Popovi Da Tony's Da's father was born Anthony Martinez in 1922; his Tewa name was Popvi Da which he legally changed in 1948. To understand Tony Da's artistic career, one must start from his artistic influences.


Julian Martinez, Tony Da's grandfather, was the first to create black on black pottery when polychrome pottery was the mainstay of San Ildefonso pueblo.  Popovi Da, Maria and Julian’s son began making his pottery in 1962 and experimentation with different pottery types.  In 1964 Popovi Da made a pot he referred to as "Carmel" which became known as Sienna. In 1967 Popovi Da added scraffito, (incised design elements) to his pottery and inlay turquoise a first for a pueblo potter. This process his son, Tony Da would take to another level of artistry accomplishment.  


Tony Da was born in 1940 Anthony Edward Da also known in San Ildefonso as Thun-Phoe-She or Sun Dew.  Tony learned to make pottery from his famous Grandmother, Maria Martinez after he finished his Navy duty in 1964.  Tony lived with Maria Martinez and began his apprenticeship at twenty-six from one of the most well-known pueblo potters.  Maria encouraged Tony to become a potter and " go ahead and make good pottery".


Tony Da would make thinner pots than his grandmother Maria Martinez, and over time he began his own style.  He first started producing pottery that he signed in 1967. In August of that year he entered the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial and won four first-place awards and one second for pottery.  His pottery career had begun in a spectacular fashion and was recognized in the "Albuquerque Journal" for his excellence.  


The first signature used 1967-68 was D'a or D'A from that point on he would use simply DA, he used this same signature for his paintings from 1975-1982.  Tony would use carve his DA usually on the bottom of the pot after firing and used a beveled appearance a characteristic of his signature.


With Maria Martinez's encouragement, he switched the majority of his time from painting to making pottery.  In Tony's mind, he was always a painter, but most of his fame came from his ornate pots.


Tony was known for his intricate designs, inlay and unusual forms.  The avanyu or plumed water serpent was a favorite of Tony's.  He also employed numerous designs from the prehistoric Mimbres culture of southern New Mexico.  Like his grandfather Julian Martinez, he liked to use a feather motif.  Deer and Buffalo imagery using a heart line design were also favorite.  Like his father, Popovi Tony Da used inlay turquoise in his pots, but Tony took the endeavor to a new level using large high-grade turquoise cabs, heishe, and Zuni inlay motifs. Animal pottery including turtles and bears, which became a trademark for the artist.  His intricate turtle designs have brought some of the highest prices of any of Tony Da's pottery styles.


His Great Aunt Clara, Maria Martinez’s sister, who was deaf, was known in the family as one of the great polishers of clay.  She would help Tony polish his vessels until she retired around 1978-1979. Popovi would help Tony fire his pots, often using a gunmetal finish a process that Popovi had perfected which required an extremely hot fire and careful use of fuel to keep the fire's oxygen reduced yet to burn very hot.  This gunmetal slip is now considered some of the most desirable finishes on pueblo pots.


Tony Da is considered to be one of the finest pueblo potters.  His artistic life was cut short on April 15, 1982; he was only 42, a motorcycle accident left him damaged for life.  Tony Da had hit his unprotected head when he laid down his bike, which caused a significant brain trauma.  The accident robbed him of a long career, not unlike his father Popovi who died in 1971 at age 48 and his grandfather Julian Martinez who died in 1943 at age 46.  


Tony would continue to make occasional watercolor paintings in a much more simplistic design but would never return to working with the clay.


His legacy however is insured with the exquisite varied pottery he left the world, which can be found in most of the major Southwest Museums.  The Millicent Rogers Museum in Santa Fe has one of the best collections of Maria Martinez and Tony Da pots.  A seminal book on Tony Da “The Life and Art of Tony Da” is a must read for those who appreciate the artistic talent of Tony Da.