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The Pottery of Mata Ortiz

Gallery West, Bellingham, WA
Feb 1-Mar 31

Mata Ortiz, Hector Gallegos, white clay [Gallery West, Bellingham, WA, Feb 1-Mar 31]
After discovering chards of ancient pottery in nearby ruins, local villager, Juan Quezada, began to experiment and recreate an ancient tradition of pottery in the Mexican village of Mata Ortiz that had almost been forgotten. The pottery has its roots in 2000 year old pieces from this same area of North Central Mexico. As a rediscovered tradition from the Cases Grandes region in Chihuahua, the villagers at Mata Ortiz are now creating collectible, museum quality pieces.

This new tradition of Cases Grandes pottery lies in the preservation of ancient techniques and in using materials from the natural environment. Raw pigment and clay is found in the hills and valleys surrounding Mata Ortiz, including a prized white clay that is preferred by some potters. The clay found in rich deposits is extracted from the ground using a pick axe and shovel, as are the oxides used to produce the decoration inherent to this pottery. The clay is transformed to a workable consistency, then washed, soaked, and strained free of rocks and twigs to produce a smooth fine clay body. The “ollas” or vessels are created completely by hand using a variety of techniques including coiling, pinching, scraping and shaping. Each piece is fired on the ground, fuelled by bark from the cottonwood tree or dried “cow chips”.
The images painted on the outside of each pot are highly refined and add to the craftsmanship and appeal. The designs are always symmetrical, and repeated in each half, third or quadrant of the vessel. Fine details are painted freehand sometimes using a one hair brush to achieve the elegant design. Each piece is signed by the artist, although an entire family is responsible for its production.

As a result of rediscovering Cases Grandes pottery, the village of Mata Ortiz has discovered an industry. Pottery production has brought the community a much needed economic revival as well as a link to the ancestors of the past.

© Allyn Cantor


 Fri, Mar 29, 2002