In July, 1940, Mary Small (Kal-la-Tee, meaning: New Indian Basket) was born into the Jemez Pueblo Sun Clan. About the time she turned 8 years old she began learning the traditional way of making pottery from her mother, Perfectita Toya.
As a young adult she married Frank Tenorio of San Felipe and in the pueblo tradition, he moved to her home at Jemez. A few years later she divorced Frank and then married Ivan Small of Jemez.
Mary grew up at a time when the quality of Jemez pottery had almost collapsed. She took it on herself to revive fine quality pottery making in the pueblo. For many years she worked with younger potters to encourage excellence and instill a sense of pride in their work. Making pottery is a very spiritual pursuit requiring different prayers at each step of the process. About her finished pieces Mary says, "They are blessed, they have power."
Mary participated in shows like the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show, the Albuquerque Indian Arts and Crafts Association Show and the Santa Fe Indian Market, beginning around 1973. She earned many ribbons during her career, including a 1st Prize at Santa Fe Indian Market in 1981 and a 1st Prize at the Powhatan Renape Nation Indian Arts Festival in 1999. Other ribbons came from the Heard Museum Indian Arts Guild and Fair, the Gallup InterTribal Ceremonial and the New Mexico State Fair. Mary was also chosen as the Indian Arts and Crafts Association Artist of the Year in 2002.
Working with her husband, Mary spent years experimenting with natural materials before she came up with her trademark blue/gray slip and her burnt red/orange designs. Her favorite shapes to make included jars, bowls, storytellers, wedding vases, miniatures and Christmas ornaments. Her favorite designs were clouds, corn plants and feathers-in-a-row. She also made some exceptionally large pottery and liked to inlay large turquoise stones in her wedding vases, often in the center of a swirling design of lightning bolts, corn plants and prayer feathers.