New Collection of Mata Ortiz Pottery featured at Gallery open house
By Susan Page
Mata Ortiz pottery is among the most exquisitely beautiful and finely executed pottery being made anywhere in the world today. Galeria Atotonilco owner, Mayer Shacter, was recently able to acquire a stunning array of pieces at very reasonable prices. He will feature this new collection and pass the savings along to customers at a gallery open house.
Featuring a new collection of Mata Ortiz Pottery
Sat & Sun, Jul28 & 29, 12-5PM
Directions to the gallery in our ad in this issue
The story behind Mata Ortiz pottery is often referred to as a “miracle.” If not a true miracle, the story certainly qualifies as remarkable.
Mata Ortiz is a tiny village in the state of Chihuahua near the town of Cases Grandes. Originally a lumber town, it fell upon hard times when the railroad that once ran through there moved to a different location. Near the town are the ruins of a puebla of ancient Pacame Indians, an Anasazi tribe which abandoned the area about a thousand years ago. In the early 60s, a young man named Juan Quezada, having little to do with his time, wandered in the hills and began to collect shards of pottery left by the ancient tribe. As he fit the shards together to form partial pots, he said to himself, “I’ll bet I could make a pot like this myself.” Completely on his own, he figured out how to mix the nearby clay into workable material, form, decorate, and fire a pot. Just as the first stone age people had to figure it out, Quezada again started from scratch and was eventually making credible pots.
Somehow or other, several of his pots made their way into a small shop just across the US border in Deming, New Mexico. There, they were spotted by an American anthropologist who inquired about their origin. “Gosh sir,” said the shop owner. “I don’t know. Can’t tell you much about them.” The anthropologist took the best part of a year to trace the pots back to Juan Quezeda in Mata Ortiz, and when he did, he strongly encouraged him and told him, “I’ll buy anything you make.”
Other members of Quezada’s family began making pots also, and then neighbors, and more neighbors and more neighbors. The pots were “discovered” by collectors, and by the 80s, began to command extremely high prices, substantially more than beautiful pottery from other Mexican ceramics villages.
The “miracle” of Mata Ortiz is not just that Quezada taught himself completely from scratch and recreated an ancient tradition in modern times. Equally miraculous is the astonishing skill that now runs through the entire village. How can so many people in the same town be so unusually talented? Over 200 families now make a living selling these pots all over the world. Potter after potter turns out stunning original designs, rendered with great skill, all modern innovations but still within the ancient Pacame tradition. As is true with most Mexican folk art, it is created only in one village, nowhere else on earth, and every artist in the village works within the tradition of that village.
“I visited Mata Ortiz 10 years ago,” said Shacter. “It’s a humble town with dirt streets and the usual exposed brick homes. But inside, we saw kitchens finished with cabinets from Home Depot, and fine pick-up trucks parked outside. Like the rest of Mexico, the potters are having a harder time selling their work these days, but the town is not the extremely poor village it once was.”
Galeria Atotonilco, recently voted the number one gallery in San Miguel for the second year in a row, exhibits a wide variety of folk art from all over Mexico, country antique furniture, vintage textiles, and photographs of nineteenth century Mexico. The gallery is five miles north of town. Directions are in the gallery’s ad in this issue. The public is welcome to attend the open house.