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!


I’m so excited about these new carvings that I am posting pictures of green, freshly carved pots.

I was recently in Santa Barbara, visiting a family member and once again, I saw a lot of kelp washed up.washed up kelp "rope"

Last time I saw it in the water while looking down from the pier. floating kelp It is most likely giant kelp which grows several inches per day!

This time I was struck by the almost formal arrangements that lay in the sand.

formal kelp arrangement

They reminded me of bookplate designs in old books.

When I got home, I looked at photos online taken by people who were swimming amongst the kelp forests.

The difference between beach-bound kelp and underwater kelp is that the blades (or leaves) are floating every which way. Additionally, the blades are often ripped away by the time the kelp has washed up leaving only the rubbery stem and bladders.

In the (extremely copyrighted) underwater photos, you can also see the overlapping as the leaves are actually slightly transparent and although I couldn’t replicate that translucent quality, still, I was really happy with the result.

open vase with kelp decoopen vase versoYou’ll also note that I’ve taken pains to make my carving marks as watery and curvy and flowing as the vase kelp

I tried to capture that feeling of motion; the swaying back and forth with the currents and surf.


I think what makes this pleasing to me and also creates good visual tension, movement and balance is the contrast between these wildly unpredictable twisting and flowing forms  and the dependable regularity of the spacing between each bladder where it comes out from the stem- each one continuing on into a blade. I know there is some correct botanical  term for this…

2nd vase detail

Okay, so I looked up Kelp on Wikepedia I found this:

In most kelp, the thallus (or body) consists of flat or leaf-like structures known as blades. Blades originate from elongated stem-like structures, the stipes. [that’s the word I was looking for!] ……. Gas-filled bladders (pneumatocysts) form at the base of blades of American species….and keep the kelp blades close to the surface, holding up the blades by the gas they contain.

and most interesting to me and other potters :

Through the 19th century, the word “kelp” was closely associated with seaweeds that could be burned to obtain soda ash (primarily sodium carbonate)….The word “kelp” was also used directly to refer to these processed ashes.

and what do you know?  The slip that into which I carved the images of Kelp on contains Soda Ash!!

So I can’t wait until these are fired stay tuned!