Magazine article Sunset

The Artistry of Mata Ortiz: In Southwestern Galleries, Discover Exquisite Pottery from a Remote Mexican Village

Magazine article Sunset

The Artistry of Mata Ortiz: In Southwestern Galleries, Discover Exquisite Pottery from a Remote Mexican Village

Article excerpt

The miracle of Mata Ortiz started with a laborer wandering through the Sierra Madre in northern Mexico, where he made a marvelous find. His discovery would forever transform a poor farming hamlet into a hub producing world-class pottery. As word spread about the art of the village of Mata Ortiz, the pottery began appearing in galleries throughout the Southwest, creating a sensation.

Juan Quezada was that laborer. In the late 1950s, he happened across ancient pottery shards left by the pre-historic Chichimeca people of Casas Grandes in Chihuahua's northern mountains. Quezada took the fragments home and, after spending several months studying them, made recreations using minerals for color and children's hair as brushes. Then, going beyond simple copying, he added his own artistic touches. Quezada shared his experiment with relatives and neighbors in tiny Mata Ortiz; soon nearly every family in the village boasted at least one talented potter.

Social anthropologist Spencer MacCallum learned about the Mata Ortiz artwork in the 1970s. He brought samples back to the United States, where they quickly became a hit. Today, lovely Mata Ortiz pottery--from shimmering, eggshell-thin designs to thicker, more substantial pieces--is famous around the globe, and village artisans have grown prosperous from their work. But even as its popularity increases, most Mata Ortiz pottery remains quite affordable. While a Juan Quezada piece might fetch $10,000 or more, vessels by lesser-known villagers range from $30 to $1,500.

Meanwhile, the work just keeps getting better--and more daring. While early Mata Ortiz potters created work stylistically similar to that from Casas Grandes, artists in recent years have produced contemporary, highly stylized vessels. …

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