Originally published in The Taos News, Tempo Section >>
Staff report Jan 30, 2023 Updated Feb 2, 2023
Mata Ortiz and so much more at Chimayo Trading Del Norte
The village of Mata Ortiz is mourning the loss of their leader, their teacher and their inspiration: Juan Quezada, the man who rediscovered the ancient art form of pottery that lifted an entire town out of poverty and obscurity to become an international destination spot for its exquisite pottery, coveted by art lovers and collectors.
Perhaps a gallery exhibiting the remarkable and historical Mata Ortiz pottery should be called a museum. And that’s exactly what a lot of people think, the first time they walk into the 250-year-old adobe housing Chimayo Trading Del Norte, owners Gabriel and Alicia Abrums explain.
Located in Ranchos de Taos, at the entrance to the road leading to the iconic San Francisco de Asís Church, an 18th-century adobe National Historical Landmark, the gallery includes contemporary art but also art pieces with deep historical roots. Gabriel Abrums grew up surrounded by art in his father’s and grandmother’s galleries where many artists were part of the Taos Society of Artists and Santa Fe’s Los Cinco Pintores.
Recent pottery acquisitions from Mata Ortiz, a village in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, once known as the Casas Grandes region, not far from the U.S.–Mexico border include those of Mexico’s renowned potter Juan Quezada, born in 1940. Sadly, leaving behind both inspiration and fame, Quesada-Celado passed on Dec. 1, 2022.
Quezada revived a ceramic pottery tradition traced to an indigenous people, the Paquimé, who, between 1200 to 1450 A.D., inhabited the breadth of the Sierras, in Chihuahua and Sonora.
There are many ‘stories’ about the current-day origins of the Paquimé style ceramic pottery, and much of the research for this story comes from the “Studio Potter” writers. The village had experienced a civil war, the loss of a railroad and a lumber mill, and the renaming of their village to that of Juan Mata Ortiz, after an infamous general in the Mexican army, who engineered the murder and scalpings of Apaches and other indigenous peoples in the area.
In 1959, the Amerind Foundation from Arizona and México’s National Institute of Anthropology and History signed a treaty, “The Joint Casas Grandes Expedition,” providing the ways and means to research and excavate the archeological site of Paquimé, thus carving out a path for ceramic pottery-making by the villagers of Mata Ortiz.
However, a more personal story is that of Juan Quezada, whose pottery has recently been acquired by Chimayo Trading Del Norte gallery. As a boy herding sheep, he discovered a Paquimé burial site strewn with broken pieces of ancient pottery.
Growing up, Quezada’s natural artistic tendency encouraged experimentation with a variety of regional clays and, though not precisely copying the designs the Paquimé artisans had left behind, he began to incorporate those drawings into his own.
Synchronistic visits in the 1970s by anthropologist/art dealer Spencer MacCallum would transform the village, formerly known as the Casas Grandes region, into the current, thriving town where the majority of the residents are now potters.
Visiting the gallery, you’ll not only see Juan Quezada’s pottery but remarkable pieces by Jorge Quintana, Martin Cota, Lydia Quezada, Octavio “Tavo” Silveira, as well as Paula Gallegos Buganni, Salvador Bacca, Fabian Ortiz, Elvira Bugarini Coto and many others.
“I think art is where we can all find harmony and unity,” gallery owner Abrums explains. “This is one thing that makes Taos and New Mexico such a unique art center — the cultural arts of the pueblos…the religious and utilitarian art of the Hispanic …the early Anglo painters of the Taos Society of Artists — their art is a way we come together in a not-always-so-harmonious world.”
And, thanks to the Mata Ortiz ceramic pottery acquisitions, Chimayo Trading Del Norte adds “international” to its adobe environs. Still, another artist must be included, gallery owner Gabriel Abrums, especially with Valentine’s Day fast approaching. If you are in the mood to spoil your significant other, or yourself, you might want to take a look at his bespoke line of fine jewelry.
“I make hand-fabricated silver and gold inlay with high-grade American turquoise and other stones,” he explains. Using Australian opal in combination with turquoise, he finds “the flashes of the stones, complement each other.”
With many of his pieces taking up to 70 hours of labor, the Abrums’ family heads for rec-time winters in Ski Valley, and summers fishing in Abiquiú. Then, there’s rafting on the Rio Grande and “home” again to Chimayo Trading Del Norte.
Chimayo Trading Del Norte
#1 Saint Francis Church Plaza, Ranchos de Taos
For visual details visit the Chimayo Trading Del Norte website chimayotrading.com/ or stop by the gallery next to San Francisco de Asís Mission Church, a historic and architecturally significant building on the main plaza of Ranchos de Taos.