Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Near the ancient ruins of Casas Grandes in the northern part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, just south of the San Luis Mountains, a new artistic movement is flourishing. Mata Ortiz, a small village barely three streets wide, is home to Juan Quezada, the self-taught originator of Mata Ortiz pottery, and his predominantly young followers.

Mata Ortiz Pottery
Mata Ortiz Pottery

Discovered in 1976 by Spencer MacCallum, Juan Quezada and his extended family of brothers, sisters, their children and neighbors became the core of this now thriving pottery movement. Quickly earning acceptance as a contemporary art form, this beautiful and excitingly varied yet simple pottery is accepted and admired as a legitimate folk art. As the eloquent design of pottery inspired those who experienced it, more and more young artists chose to follow Juan Quezada's inspirational model. New potting families developed and the art form continues to expand. This vibrant flow of new ideas without the restraining bonds of traditional practices or gender constraints to impede creativity has enabled the pottery of Mata Ortiz to avoid the pitfalls of derivative repetition that have doomed many previous folk art movements. As a collector, the joy of being part of a contemporary artistic movement that is recognized and appreciated today adds to the excitement of ownership of these ever evolving designs.

Technically, all the pots are hand built without the use of a potter’s wheel. Shaping, polishing and painting the clay is entirely done by hand, often in primitive surroundings with brushes made from children’s hair. All materials and every tool originated from supplies that were readily available locally, as exemplified by the preferred fuel for the simple, low temperature firing being grass-fed cow manure or split wood.

The extraordinary art of the potters of Mata Ortiz is due to the many diverging forms of this contemporary art movement rooted in a thousand year tradition but at the same time free and spontaneous. It is the result of a blending of cultural expression, economic need and artistic desire. It will provide pleasure to all who are fortunate enough to share in experiencing it.

An exhibit of twenty pots from Mata Ortiz went on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, United States, on July 1, 2005. The exhibit allows visitors to see the different styles of the artists, and includes a short video about the town. The exhibit was on display until May 31, 2006.

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