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!

Week 1 of Slip ‘n’ Surfaces

I am teaching a 4 week class this June called Slip ‘n’ Surfaces.

I have a lovely group of students and I’m really excited about teaching surface decorating techniques.

This first class we started out discussing slips. What is slip exactly?

The slip at Lill and in many places is simply liquid porcelain with pigment in it. Here we use Mason stains which are very dependable. The key to using slip well is to understand its properties. Because it is clay, it will not run or flux as glaze does and so you get great sharp details and precision but it does shrink as it dries. So you must apply it in time for it to bond to the surface of your clay and for them to shrink together.  You have a a much bigger window of opportunity when applying slip to porcelain than to stoneware because porcelain and stoneware have different rates of shrinkage.

I gave a demo of my favorite texture and color technique- what I call the Eric Jensen technique- I’ve posted about it before so I will be very brief in this description:

Start with a thick pad of clay- at least an inch thick, spread slip on it and then “dry out” the slip with sheets of newspaper.

Once the slip is “dry” (you can touch it without it sticking to your hand- it’s a kind of a leather feel to it) then you can add a second slip or stamp it or even draw in it. If you add more slip, you must dry it out again and then you can begin to throw the slab out.You can put two colors down with out drying in between but they lose their definition and blend as above.

The key to this stage is that you must keep the slip side up while you are throwing the slab. Because you’ve dried the slip, it will break up instead of stretching with the clay  and you get a great texture. If you’ve incised lines in it, the surface tends to break along those lines.the line around the perimeter of this slab was made with a spiky wheel normally used for patterns in sewing.

Then I took that piece and put it in a mold or “drop mold” so named because to settle the clay into it, you drop it once or more.

This is a different slab and you can see it tore where the clay was uneven or had air bubbles.

To adapt to the shape of the slab, I took some extra clay and built up part of the mold. Next week I’ll put little legs on this tray.

Next I demonstrated painting and sponging on slip by doing some of these summer trees. A sponge with a rough surface is excellent to get the slip applied so it emulates the transparency and distribution of leaves.

I then go in and clean up the trees with a stick and loop tools as I have more control with those than the brush or sponge.

This is almost the finished product.

Lastly, I did a brief demonstration of what I do the most, cover the surface with black slip, draw an image with a nice wooden stylus you can see some of my sticks in the upper left(you can see some of my sticks in the upper left)

and then carve away negative spaces with a fine loop tool.(and here you can see some of my fine loop tools)

Today I went back to my leather hard pieces and used a sure form to finish the edges. This is a tool often used for plaster and can be found in most hardware stores.It’s a very handy tool!