Born into the San ildefonso Pueblo on November 3, 1950, Martha Appleleaf is the daughter of Carmelita Dunlap. Carmelita’s mother passed away when she was very young, leaving her to be raised by her two aunts, the famous Maria Martinez and her sister Desideria. Carmelita was considered Maria’s last direct protege until she died in 2000.
Martha has been an active potter since 1970. She and her son, Erik Fender, are both featured in Fourteen Families. She has taken 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons at Santa Fe Indian Market and Eight Northern.
Appleleaf’s green-on-black pot also won the Tony Da Award for Pottery, which tends to go to artists who innovate using traditional methods and techniques. (Another of her green-on-black pieces won the award in 2010.)
The green-on-black is a variation on the green-on-red pottery that first set Appleleaf and Fender apart. SWAIA almost disqualified the green the first time the pair tried showing it at market. But the judges examined the clay and were convinced of its authenticity.
The green was a fortuitous discovery made in 1988 — although Appleleaf did not see it as such at the time. She expected the clay slip that produced the green to turn the usual buff color. When the pots came out of the firing green-on-red, Appleleaf was horrified. “I was telling my uncle that I ruined my pots,” Appleleaf said. “And he said just take them to Santa Fe. Show them at the galleries. Somebody will like them. So Erik and I went, and sure enough, something like three galleries bought.”
It was Fender who decided to try a black firing in 1998, although both believed the green clay would likely turn matt black. But the clay maintained its green coloring, and the black firing has been part of their repertoire ever since.
The green clay now holds special significance for Appleleaf. “We all got Indian names and the girls all got pretty flower names. I was so upset because my sisters all have nice flower names and my grandma named me Appleleaf. Why not Apple Blossom? Why Appleleaf? But you know how they say my life was already planned when I got that name? We ended up calling the green Appleleaf Green. So I guess it was predestined.”
Despite the tremendous skill, patience and hard work traditional pottery requires, Appleleaf obviously loves her art and has instilled that in her son. “It’s our privilege and honor that the Clay Mother lets us make her beautiful,” she said. “She allows us to do all this to her — and it allows us to have all that we have.”