Born Antonio Martinez in April, 1923, Popovi Da was the youngest son of Julian and Maria Martinez. He grew up surrounded by some of the finest Native American potters and painters on Earth. However, he felt the call of public service early in life and served several terms as Governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo. He was involved in tribal politics and religion most of his life and it didn't leave him much time for anything else.
Popovi legally changed his name to his Tewa name (meaning Red Fox) in 1948. He had spent several years in the US Army during World War II and on his return to San Ildefonso, he decided to learn to make pottery. At first he was digging and processing the clay and learning to do the firing. Then he took a few "official" courses at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.
It was in 1948 that he and his wife Anita opened the Popovi Da Studio of Indian Art at San Ildefonso. They offered Maria's pottery and exceptional works from other San Ildefonso artists. In 1950 he began learning to paint designs for his mother. That process wasn't complete until sometime in 1956 when he replaced his sister-in-law Santana and became Maria's primary painter. One of his conditions before taking that on were that his mother sign with her real name: Maria. She had been signing Marie for years, on the advice of Kenneth Chapman from the Museum of New Mexico. He told her to Anglicize her name so as not to turn off any Anglo buyers.
That changeover seems to have taken a while as I've seen a number of Maria's pieces signed Maria Santana instead of the Marie Santana that was on her pots after Julian died in 1943. It was also after that changeover to Maria Popovi that the team of Adam and Santana Martinez came into being.
When it came to art it seems Popovi preferred to be a painter. He only made a few excellent pots and plates on his own. For many years he was his mother's favorite painter. It was during the time Popovi worked with Maria (1956-1971) that they perfected the technique of producing their trademark gunmetal finish. His son, Tony Da, took on from where Popovi left off and elevated Native American ceramic art to a new level.
Due to so few pieces made by Popovi himself, his work has become expensive. More expensive even than the high end of most of Maria's work. The most expensive Popovi Da piece I've seen retailed for $70,000. I saw a Maria Julian jar from the late 1930's, 27 inches in diameter and in mint condition, sell for $195,000 a couple years ago. Other than that, the vast majority of Maria's work retails for less than a typical mint condition piece by Popovi alone. Maria Popovi pieces tend to be in the higher range of Maria's retail.
Popovi passed on in 1971 and Maria stopped making pottery then. On the Maria Martinez pages of this website, I list the signatures on each piece shown. Even there you won't find many Maria Popovi's.