Pottery of Mata Ortiz


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.

Acoma Pueblo (Sky City, NM)



Our third visited pueblo was one that surprised us. Known in artistic circles for their intricately decorated clay pottery, the Acoma people have one village perched on a 365-foot mesa high above the surrounding valley. Guided tours are the only way to visit the village, more commonly known as Sky City. Photography permits for a fee are also available.

Though the Acoma share a common ancestry with the Zuni and Hopi, including similar gods and spirits and a matrilineal society, they seem to have adopted material culture much more readily. The Sky City Cultural Center is second to none, a modern facility that houses a gift shop, cafe and museum, with massive wooden front doors that suggest a Spanish influence. In fact, the Spanish seem to have converted the Acoma to Catholicism, which the Zuni and Hopi have long since largely rejected, even though the Acoma took part in the 17th-century Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish with the other surrounding tribes. The Acomas have Spanish surnames and the church in the pueblo (San Esteban del Rey Mission, on the National Register of Historic Places) still conducts mass and church services.

San Estevan Del Rey Mission Church

San Estevan Del Rey Mission Church

The homes atop the mesa, the original architecture still evident, seem to have been partially renovated using more modern materials, including double-pane glass windows and modern doors. Even though the pueblo still is not electrified nor does it have running water or sewage system, large propane tanks and modern-day honey buckets are in use.

Acoma homes are more updated than those of most other pueblos

Acoma homes are more updated than those of most other pueblos

Propane for fuel

Propane for fuel

The Acoma have also recently opened a large casino, something that the Hopi or Zuni have not or probably never will do.

View of valley from mesa top

View of valley from mesa top

The pottery is much sought-after by collectors. Pots exhibit complex geometric patterns on thin clay walls with fluted rims and often decorated with a characteristic black paint made from pulverized hematite rock. The coveted, hand-coiled pottery is very expensive, but more affordable ones made from pour-molded stock have the same meticulous hand-painted patterns.

acoma_seed_pot

Acoma seed pot (Wikipedia)