Mata Ortiz Pottery

Mata Ortiz is a small pueblo that is home to a unique community of potters located along the Palanganas River in the Casa Grandes Valley in northwest Chihuahua, Mexico. The area is rich with history dating back to ancient Paquime, a large pre-Hispanic city that at its zenith was emblematic of high culture and trade between the many tribes in the region. Throughout the valley, evidence of the ancient peoples can be found in the ruins and artifacts, such as pottery shards, scattered about.

In the mid 1950’s a man named Juan Quezada, deeply inspired by the prehistoric pottery he found while growing up the valley, set out to learn the lost art of the beautiful pottery. Through trial and error, using only the region’s diverse range of clays and minerals, hand-built “kilns”, or quemadoras, and makeshift clay tools, Quezada successfully recreated the ancient pottery. In the 1970’s an American archeologist found some of Juan’s pots in a junk shop in New Mexico. Intrigued by the pottery due to its likeness to the ancient pottery found in the region, the archeologist set out to find the mystery potter. Eventually his search led to the pueblo of Mata Ortiz, where he met Juan Quezada in his humble adobe house to discuss the creation of more pottery. This relationship was the catalyst in introducing Mata Ortiz pottery to the fine art world in the States over the coming years.

Shortly thereafter other members of Quezada’s family recognized the economic impact that the pottery could have on their family and had begun to learn the techniques from Juan. As time moved forward the other families in the village learned how to process clay, hand build the pots and hand-paint their own incredibly intricate and unique designs. Families now pass down their techniques to new generations beginning as young as 5 years old.  Still to this day the potters use the old method of firing pots one at a time in quemadoras (big clay flowerpots overturned to retain heat) and hand-painting the pots using brushes made from their own hair. The pottery has evolved into its own contemporary art form only made in the pueblo and has become the trademark of Mata Ortiz.