Mata Ortiz Pottery

Remember how, in my last blog entry,  I mentioned a store in Hasting, Mn that carried Mata Ortiz pottery?

Well, I am very pleased to say that for my birthday, I received no less than three gorgeous pieces (bought from Mississippi Clayworks) from that little town that lies in Mexico just south of Arizona and New Mexico.

I am so thrilled with these amazing pots that I wanted to write just a little more about Mata Ortiz (what little I know) and to post photos of these amazing pots. I first heard of Juan Quezada when I encountered a children’s book “Juan Quezada” by Shelley Dale. After that I made a specific effort to see a short term exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum and I was stunned. These were incredible pots with intricate decorations. They sold a few small ones in the gift shop but they were beyond my means.

Here is my new personal collection!

This first pot is a small seed pot. the opening is small so that one could seal it agains mice with just a nice flat stone.  It is approximately 2.5″hx 4.5″w

This was  made by Alina Mora- possibly you can see the amazing intricacy of the the brushwork. This one is made of “white” clay so that is the underlying color.

Also she put a bird on the underside!  This is something I like to do too!

A few years ago, I took a workshop from Michael Wisner at Lill Street. He has worked with many of the indigenous potters in the southwest including one of my idols (now deceased) Maria Martinez. He was able to answer some questions- one of which was about the brushes that Juan Quezada uses- Juan found that the hair of children is softest and used some from his grandaughter. Mike told a story about going to her and she just matter-of-fact-ly held up her hair so they could take some from the nape of her neck under her hair where it wouldn’t show!

So I imagine the brush that painted these teeny lines was made of child’s hair.

This is a less traditionally functional pot although the shape is not uncommon.

It is around 6.5″h x 5″ w Lourdes Nuñez is the potter who made it.

This pot was given to me by my mother.  These patterns are all hand painted with such a steady hand!

Inspiration for these patterns come from the ceramics Juan found in while gathering firewood in the 30’s and poking around as a young man.  These shards and pots were  made by the ancient cultures that lived near Mata Ortiz. One group was the Paquime indians who lived in the area from the 1200’s to the 1500’s.

Juan’s interest led him to experiment with clays and soils and minerals that he dug up. He figured if they would make those pots here, so could he.  With no knowledge of clay processing or pottery making techniques, he taught himself how to make similar pots. Then he taught anyone in his town who wanted to learn. Now there are no less than 30 accomplished potters in Mata Ortiz and this has completely reversed the severe economic downturn they were experiencing. This is a great short video about it.

Lastly, I admit, this pot by Daniel Gonzalez captivated me immediately as I pressed my face against the glass of the window of the closed store. It’s big too! Roughly 12.5″hx  11″w.

This pot, in person, spectacular!  It is large, extremely light and the pattern of the snakes is amazing! I love how they are “see through” and the way they curl and move around the curves of the pot, emphasizing and enhancing its voluptous curves.

All the pots have round bottoms and came with little padded rings to sit on. If you get a chance, try to experience these pots in person!

7 Replies to “Mata Ortiz Pottery”

  1. I’ve followed the work of Juan Quezada and Mata Ortiz off and on. What a stunning thing, to revivify a lost tradition! He and Maria Martinez do seem like kindred spirits. Perhaps sometime I’ll get to visit your Mata Ortiz pots – they are delicious to look at, and I can only imagine their strength in person.

    I see a lot of Mimbres in the Mata Ortiz imagery. To be sure, I see a lot of Acoma and other sources too – but virtually nothing contemporary captures the asymmetric, zoomorphic power native to Minoan and Mimbres work. More than most, the Mata Ortiz rises to the challenge.

  2. I agree whole heartedly with that assessment and have long been a huge fan of the Mimbres. Thank you for taking the time to put such a thoughtful comment and I would love for you to visit my pots! (And me!)

  3. My wife Emalie and I enjoy your enthusiasm and, of course, share it — so much so that we have made Casas Grandes, 15 miles from Mata Ortiz, our permanent home. This is a historic pueblo, and the ruins of Paquime, whose ceramics from the 14th century were the initial source of inspiration for the potters of Mata Ortiz, are within walking distance of our home. We suggest a trip to Mata Ortiz, and please visit us when you come! Don’t believe the papers about it being dangerous; the violence, when it exists at all, is between the cartels and doesn’t affect visitors. Life is entirely normal here. Do not hesitate to call on our El Paso line (***********), rings in Mexico) with any questions about the area or Mata Ortiz specifically. And you might enjoy our website, -Spencer and Emi

  4. Spencer and Emi,
    Thank you so much! What a wonderful invitation! Do not be surprised if we take you up on that! We are fluent in Spanish and big enthusiasts of Mexico- no fears and the idea of visiting is thrilling! I will look at your website too.

  5. Glynnis, Love your work and am envious of your Mata Ortiz pottery! A couple of years ago I attended the Alabama Clay Conference at the campus of Troy University in Troy, AL Juan Quezada was one of our guest potters with Spencer MacCallum along to translate and to tell us the story of his discovering Juan Ortiz. I was mesmerized to say the least. There was a Mata Ortiz shop set up in one of the rooms in which I spent a lot of my free time looking and admiring the magnificent work. I can relate to your comment “beyond my means”! But I kept coming back to one small pot – finally the young man wrote down a reduced price by just a few dollars and I thought, now if my husband finds out I got a “bargain” maybe he won’t be too upset. (!!) As a matter of fact, he made a special little shelf on which it is displayed at my art studio/business, The Artist Within, in Decatur, AL. Thanks for the opportunity to share!

  6. Ms. Lee, that’s a great story! Thank you for sharing it here. If I’m ever in Decatur, I would love to stop in.

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