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Julian Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1884–1943), Buffalo Dancers
ca. 1930s
San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Fe County, New Mexico
Hide, paint
79 x 61 cm
Henry Craig Fleming Collection

“Julian was a good man, and he was head of some ceremony, and he became governor. Sometimes they re-elect[ed] him to take care of his people. At a ceremony, in [the] Indian way, he was very good. He helped me. He helped me with everything.”
—Maria Martinez, 1977, speaking about her husband Julian

Julian Martinez is perhaps best known for his collaborations with his wife, Maria, the Pueblo potter. Yet in the 1920s and late 1930s, Martinez distinguished himself as an easel painter, a member of what became known as the San Ildefonso School. In 1932, he was one of four artists and eight students who painted the first murals at the Santa Fe Indian School and founded the Mural Guild.

Martinez’s paintings, in which he often combined the figurative and abstract, influenced generations of Native American artists. Dorothy Dunn, the founder of the Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School, recognized him as an innovator and credited him with introducing an improvised avanyu, or water serpent, and the equestrian figure to watercolor painting. The former is a classic pottery motif, while the latter is a Pueblo adaptation of the Plains Warrior, according to Dunn.

The Buffalo Dance is held during the winter months, though parts of the dance maybe performed in summer. Martinez and his contemporaries often painted Pueblo ceremonial dances. What makes this work unusual within Martinez’s larger oeuvre is its deer hide ground. Most of his paintings are on paper or, in the case of his murals, canvas.

—Michelle McGeough (Métis)

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