New collection of Mata Ortiz Pottery featured at open house

By Susan Page

Mata Ortiz pottery, made only in the small village of Mata Ortiz in the State of Chihuahua, is among the most finely executed pottery being made anywhere in the world today. Galería 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, Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28, from noon to 5pm.

Open house
Featuring a new collection of
Mata Ortiz Pottery
Sat and Sun, Jul 27 & 28, 12-5pm
Galería Atotonilco
Directions to the gallery in our ad in this issue
185-2225 or 044-415-153-5365


Shacter, himself a ceramic artist, brings an unusual perspective to what he sees happening in the evolution of Mata Ortiz pottery. I recently asked him to explain what excites him about this new collection of work.

Mayer Shacter: When I started in ceramics in the early ‘60s, there was very little for us to build on. We looked at Japanese and European traditions, but the studio pottery movement in the States was in its infancy. By the ‘90s, a second generation of potters was already emerging, building on the early pioneers. They started out with a greater vocabulary of tools than we had and were able to expand by developing new firing methods, using new materials, inventing new techniques.

I find it exciting to see the second and third generations of Mata Ortiz potters now experiencing the same phenomenon. I love buying pots from these younger people. Their work has an exuberance and polish that comes from their eagerness to innovate, and they are in fact developing ideas that could not occur to the first generation of potters, who were busy refining basic techniques. They have the skill and the freedom to push the boundaries of their predecessors. For example, several families have taken black pottery to new heights by combining graphite powder with diesel oil, painting it on the surface, and then burnishing it to give the pot a luminous almost iridescent quality. These gorgeous pots are the result of imaginative experimentation. I like works of art that make people ask, “How did they do this?”

In addition to exhibiting an expansive vocabulary and showing great innovation, pots made by the sons and daughters of the masters are more affordable. It’s possible to buy a really good piece for a few hundred dollars instead of several thousand dollars for a piece by the old masters. I buy at a level that most people can afford, but I never sacrifice quality for price. I insist on work that is masterfully crafted. I always like having some true masterpieces in the gallery also.

Mata Ortiz potters, like Mexicans in general, keep close family ties. If I am dealing with one potter, he or she will usually be showing me pots by a brother or sister as well.

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 who 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.

Galería Atotonilco, Trip Advisor’s #1 shopping destination in San Miguel de Allende, exhibits a wide variety of folk art from all over Mexico, country antique furniture, decorative blown glass, historic photographs, and more. Except for the open house on July 27 and 28, the gallery is open by appointment: 044-415-153-5365 or 185-2225. Directions to the gallery are in the ad in this issue.


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