Mata Ortiz Pottery
The story of Mata Ortiz is in, many ways, the story of Juan Quezada. And his story in (also in many ways) runs parallel to that of Nampeyo, the Hopi woman credited with the rebirth of Southwest Native American pottery. Where Nampeyo of Hano worked with the pottery shard designs she retrieved from the ruins of the ancient Hopi village of Sikyatku at Second Mesa, Juan Quezada used shards he found that were remnants from the ancient Casa Grande culture and its great city of Paquime located in the barren land of central Cihuahua, Mexico.
Unlike Nampeyo who was already a skilled potter, Quezada was self-taught from the digging and purifying of the clay to its coiling, painting and firing. One can only imagine the hundreds of times he failed to succeed in creating a successful pot. Yet he did succeed and created a superb, high quality pottery utilizing the ancient geometric patterns he found on the pottery shards from a culture long past. Today, Mata Ortiz pottery of the Casa Grandes region is collected by people around the world and the once impoverished communities of Mata Ortiz and Nuevo Casa Grande are prosperous as hundreds of potters produce this uniquely beautiful genre of pottery. Quezada shared his new found knowledge with family and friends and from there the so-called “Miracle of Mata Ortiz” was born. He is still sharing and teaching today.
The white clay used for Mata Ortiz pottery comes from a vein of white clay first discovered by Juan Quezada. The paints for Mata Ortiz pottery come from grinding minerals to a fine powder, a technique used by civilizations throughout the world from the earliest of times. Generally human hair brushes are used. The last step is firing the pottery and Mata Ortiz pottery is fired in a different way than the traditionally fired pottery of the Hopi and Pueblo Indians.
Mata Ortiz pottery is generall fired at between 1000 and 1500°F achieving a critical point for the clay where it begins to melt and turn glasslike. As with the creation of all pottery fired in a traditional way (by wood and dung), regulating the heat and environment is critical. The potters of Mata Ortiz use both oxidation firing (to create the black pottery) and reduction firing.
Although the initial designs utilized by Juan Quezada in creating his pottery were ancient in origin, today’s Mata Ortiz and Casa Grandes potters do not feel constrained to use the ancient graphics. Because of this, Mata Ortiz pottery is renowned for its innovative graphics as each potter unleashes his or her full creative talents in the creative process. Among those who create this pottery there are both inspired artist and talented crafts persons so there is a wide range of quality available ranging from the inexpensive pieces that might decorate a restaurant table to the pieces that find their place in premiere galleries, museums and private collections throughout the world.
To learn more about Mata Ortiz pottery we recommend the following books: