In 1976, an American anthropologist, Spencer MacCallum, sought out and found Juan Quezada, a potter in Mata Ortiz, a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, approximately 100 miles south of the U.S. border. Years earlier, he had been impressed with and purchased one of Quezada’s pieces at a general store and began a search for the artist. With MacCallum’s encouragement, Quezada produced more pottery with the guarantee that all his output would be purchased. As his fame grew, others in his immediate and extended family took up the craft, which is now considered a movement and a genuine folk art.
We ventured into Chimayo Trading del Norte in Ranchos de Taos, where we were immediately struck by Mata Ortiz pottery. The proprietor took the time to explain the distinguishing features of the pottery after we expressed interest and amazement. It is entirely handmade without the use of a potter’s wheel, using a coiling technique that is commonly used throughout the Southwest by native peoples. It is also shaped, polished and painted entirely by hand. The painting technique, often done with brushes made of children’s hair, involves exquisite geometrical and other shapes symmetrically drawn on vessels that are often tapered and rounded at the bottom, requiring ringed collars to support them. The constant experimentation by both male and female potters produces new forms of expression all the time.
We saw more examples of the pottery in Chimayo (affiliated with the gallery in Taos) and Albuquerque.