A young Mexican boy looking for firewood finds a pottery shard from a Pre-Hispanic culture. So began a creative and artistic explosion in the little town of Mata Ortiz in Chihuahua. Discovered in the 70’s by American collectors, museums and cultural institutions, Mata Ortiz pottery is unarguably some of the most exquisite hand coiled primitively made pottery in the world. The young boy was Juan Quezada Celado. He combed the archeological site of Casas Grandes (Pacquime`) for inspiration. Through trial and error, he learned the old ways and began to make his own version of a lost art. Self-taught, he then shared his discoveries and techniques with talented family members and others in the town. Relying on simple tools: a bone, a stone, or a fine brush made with the hair of a child, they created an earthquake in the world of handmade pottery
The basis of many of the designs originated from the prehistoric Pacquime Pueblo pottery. Not being part of any tradition allows for the artist’s own interpretation to come into play. Therefore, the variety and breathtaking detail, the futuristic shapes of vessels, jars and vases, all combine to create a new vision, a distinctive art form that goes beyond form and function. Each artist’s creative mind is hand painted, etched or carved on the surfaces or delineated with the precision of a computer. The pieces they have created must be seen in person to truly appreciate the juxtaposition of complexity and simplicity that is Mata Ortiz Pottery and Sculpture.
Each pot begins with a small clay tortilla that forms the rounded bottom, one of the characteristics of the original pottery of the Pacquime’ site, along with very thin walls, elegant shapes and utilitarian designs. Juan experimented with local clays and devised a method of hand-building from the base with one large coil. This differs from the pueblo way of small coils connected one at a time. Mata Ortiz is formed with the fingers on the inside and a scraper that lifts and smooths the outside surface. Because of the level of detail, the ceramic surface must be perfectly smooth by sanding and burnishing several times. Another difference between Mata Ortiz and the Pueblo potters is that there is no limit to the surface treatments: Scrafitto, fine line, carvings of zoomorphic forms, elegant black and white futuristic languages; you can look at the surface of a piece and see something new each time. Mata Ortiz pottery is a painting that wraps around empty space, and sometimes extends beyond the expected edge, into a new way of looking at clay, at art, and at life.
On view now, an exquisite collection amassed over the last 30 years of Mata Ortiz work in black, polychrome and white. Pieces by many of the premier Mata Ortiz artists many of whom are no longer creating new work. To learn about their techniques and the full story, stop by the gallery at Chimayo Trading Del Norte, in the Ranchos Plaza, in the shadow of the San Franscisco de Asis Mission Church.
Juan Quezada, Mata Ortiz
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