Category Archives: Mexican culture

MATA ORTIZ, PAQUIME AND LOOTING

English/Spanish:

Museum director Jeff Romney wrote in 2016: Unfortunately our Casas Grandes region was almost completely plundered by people in the 1890s-1980s (most of whom were our own [Mexican]  countrymen). Desafortunadamente nuestra region Casas Grandes fue casi complentamente saqueada por personas en los 1890s-1980s (la mayoria de las cuales fueron nuestros propios paisanos).

English:

Mr. Romney has strong ties to the Nuevo Casas Grandes/Colonia Juárez/Mata Ortiz area and a college degree in anthropology. He explained, “Once the Paquime ruins were excavated in the late 1950s and the world began to see what marvels were discovered, people began digging in the many hundreds of other sites in the area in earnest. The 1960s-1980s saw the most digging from what we understand.

There are documented cases of earlier finds as well such as the US Army under Pershing when they went after Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolutionary Period. The US Army dug out several sites south of Casas Grandes.

Anyway…even today it is not uncommon for people to encounter pots, and other archaeological materials out in their fields when ditches, roads, canals, homes, and other things are constructed. In the 1880s, Nuevo Casas Grandes and the Mormon Colonies were founded. People were finding items when they prepared the surrounding area for the first time for crops, orchards, cattle ranges, etc. This is not to imply that “looting” occurred on a large scale of time. Large scale looting happened mostly during the 1960s-1980s. There may still be a handful of people out there doing it even today. Who knows?”

Espanol:

El Sr. Romney tiene fuertes lazos con el área de Nuevo Casas Grandes / Colonia Juárez / Mata Ortiz y un título universitario en antropología. Explicó: “Una vez que las ruinas de Paquime fueron excavadas a finales de la década de 1950 y el mundo comenzó a ver qué maravillas fueron descubiertas, la gente comenzó a cavar en los cientos de otros sitios de la zona en serio. Las décadas de 1960 y 1980 fueron las que más cavaron de lo que entendemos. 

Hay casos documentados de hallazgos anteriores, así como el Ejército de EE.UU. bajo Pershing cuando se fueron después de Pancho Villa durante el Período Revolucionario Mexicano. El ejército estadounidense excavó varios sitios al sur de Casas Grandes.

De todos modos … aún hoy no es raro que la gente encuentre ollas y otros materiales arqueológicos en sus campos cuando se construyen zanjas, caminos, canales, casas y otras cosas. En la década de 1880 se fundaron Nuevo Casas Grandes y las Colonias Mormonas. La gente estaba encontrando artículos cuando prepararon el área circundante por primera vez para cultivos, huertos, cadenas de ganado, etc. Esto no significa que el “saqueo” ocurrió a gran escala de tiempo. Los grandes saqueos ocurrieron principalmente durante los años 1960s-1980s. Todavía puede haber un puñado de gente por ahí lo hace aún hoy. ¿Quién sabe?”

 

Historia y Alfareria de Mata Ortiz

Felix Ortiz and family

Felix Ortiz and family

Jerardo Tena effigy. Jerardo is a nephew of Felix Ortiz.

Jerardo Tena effigy. Jerardo es sobrino de Felix Ortiz.

Historia y Alfareria de Juan Mata Ortiz

La historia completa de la alfarería Mata Ortiz necesita voces nuevas. Una reexaminación histórica es la base en gran parte de este contexto. James McPherson, presidente de la American Historical Association, dice que “la revisión es el alma de los estudios históricos. La historia es el diálogo contínuo entre el presente y el pasado. Las interpretaciones del pasado están sujetos a cambio en respuesta a nueva evidencia, preguntas nuevas que se hacen a la evidencia y nuevas perspectivas que se adquieren con el pasar de los años. No hay una sola, eterna y inmutable ‘verdad’ sobre los eventos en el pasado y su significado”.

Esta ampliada documentación histórica pasa a través de algunas suposiciones aceptadas. La documentación incluye las voces de muchas personas, entre las cuales, las de los alfareros del área de Mata Ortiz y Nuevo Casas Grandes.

Kiva es una revista trimestral que publica la Sociedad Arqueológica y Histórica de Arizona. En la edición de otoño de 1994, Scott Ryerson escribió que ningún alfarero del barrio de El Porvenir de Mata Ortiz fue incluido en una lista de Spencer MacCallum hecha en 1977 de alfareros que estaban trabajando con barro.

Sin embargo, gracias a la investigación de Jim Hills en 2010 en Nuevo Casas Grandes, Casas Grandes y Mata Ortiz, sabemos que habían muchas personas en el barrio de Porvenir haciendo ollas en los anos 1970. Alfareros del Porvenir como Rojelio Silveira, Emeterio Ortiz, Felix Ortiz, y Salvador Ortiz hacían la alfarería de Mata Ortiz en los años 1960 y 1970. También en reciente entrevistas en 2015 con muchos alfareros revelo que la tradición de la ceramica de Mata Ortiz surgió como un esfuerzo de grupo, y no de la inspiración de un solo hombre.

Se sabe de sobra que el muy conocido Juan Quezada estaba trabajando en barro en otra área de Mata Ortiz en la misma época.  Así mismo, de acuerdo a la investigación de Julián Hernandez de Nuevo Casas Grandes, Manuel Olivas de Nuevo Casas Grandes, hacía ollas contemporánea al estilo Paquime, lo que ahora se llama alfarería Mata Ortiz, a principios de los años cincuenta. Manuel aprendió a trabajar con ollas de su abuela, Leonor Parra.  En la revista Southwest, edición primavera 2012, Hernandez dijo que Manuel “estaba haciendo alfarería con diseños Paquimé a finales de 1951”.

De acuerdo a una investigación más reciente, “Spencer MacCallum continuamente ajustó su relato a través de los años en su intento de promover una sola narrativa, la cual requirió omitir, modificar, o diluir hechos.” Debido a este relato incompleto, se perdió la estima familiar y generó el resentimiento hacia las personas que estaban presentes en la historia de MacCallum. Ese resentimiento continúa hoy, con los actuales alfareros que hablan sobre las ramificaciones actuales, contemporáneas. Ya es hora de que sus voces estén incluidas para ampliar la historia de la alfarería tradicional de Mata Ortiz hacia una recolección mas completa.

 

 

 

 

 

Mata Ortiz: Las Historias No Contadas, Parte Dos

LAS HISTORIAS NO CONTADAS DE PAQUIMÉ Y

MATA ORTIZ (PARTE DOS)

                                             Por Ron Goebel y Nancy Andrews

 

“Es momento de incluir más voces y expandir la historia de la tradición alfarería de Mata Ortiz en una representación más completa”.

-Del documental de 2015 “Mata Ortiz: Las Historias No Contadas”

La alfarería en Mata Ortiz surgió como un esfuerzo grupal. La documentación muestra que en Mata Ortiz la tradición alfarería comenzó como un esfuerzo grupal y no con la inspiración de un solo hombre. El profesor Julián Hernández está de acuerdo: “Comenzaron a trabajar con el barro… todos juntos… para lograr mejores habilidades y realizar sus trabajos de alfarería”.

Marisela Ortiz reafirma este esfuerzo grupal cuando habla sobre la década de 1960 y de principios de la década de 1970, los primeros años de su padre en la alfarería. “Sí, mi padre Félix Ortiz fue uno de los primeros que comenzó a trabajar con barro, él y algunos de sus amigos”, destaca. Junto con su hermano, Emeterio, entre los amigos alfareros de Félix se encontraban Rojelio Silveira y Salbador Ortiz, tío del artista contemporáneo Eli Navarrete.

Eli Navarrete recuerda sus propios comienzos, cuando aprendió a fabricar ollas en Barrio Porvenir. “Me juntaba con Félix y su hermano mayor Emeterio. Fueron pioneros con Juan Quezada. Y uno de los primeros en utilizar técnicas nuevas fue mi tío, Salbador Ortiz. Los fines de semana, pasaba tiempo con familiares y amigos y hablábamos sobre encontrar nuevos materiales y herramientas”.

El alfarero pionero de Mata Ortiz, Rojelio Silveira, coincide y afirma que en la década de1960 Salbador Ortiz era uno de los alfareros auténticos del pueblo. En una entrevista de 2012 con el documentalista Richard Ryan de Mata Ortiz, Silveira relata: “Tenía unos 21 años cuando comencé a fabricar ollas. Fue antes de casarme”. Era el año 1965. “Ahí fue cuando hice una olla con dos rostros, una esfinge. Félix [Ortiz] hizo un cuenco pequeño y mi amigo Chava [Salbador Ortiz] hizo una olla pequeña. Así fue cómo empezamos. Comenzó cuando les dije: “Hagamos una olla”. Silveira había sido un saqueador, y también resultó que pudo fabricar una olla él mismo. “Así que dijeron, está bien, intentémoslo, y así lo hicimos. Todos juntos. Félix Ortiz, yo Rojelio Silveira y Salbador Ortiz. Los tres”.

Mata Ortiz: Las Historias No Contadas, Parte Tres

LAS HISTORIAS NO CONTADAS DE PAQUIMÉ Y

MATA ORTIZ (PARTE TRES)

Por Ron Goebel y Nancy Andrews

Del mismo modo, los artistas jóvenes de la actualidad rápidamente le dan crédito a la comunidad por sus logros y comparten sus triunfos con colegas. El premiado alfarero Héctor Gallegos Junior avanza hasta el punto de darle el crédito a la tierra misma, junto con sus padres, por su inspiración y logros. “Todos nuestros materiales”, explica, “provienen de nuestra tierra, así que es muy importante para mí. La mayoría de nuestras tierras se han cultivado por mi familia durante muchas generaciones. Además de la alfarería, la mayoría de las personas vive de su tierra. Debido a mi amor por la naturaleza, comencé a representar a los animales y insectos del norte de México en mis trabajos de alfarería”. Gallegos continúa y ilustra su devoción por la comunidad de Mata Ortiz. “Cuando viajamos a exhibiciones, mostramos nuestro trabajo, pero también hablamos de la comunidad. No solo nos promocionamos a nosotros mismos. Promocionamos a toda la comunidad. Por ejemplo, Group of Seven es una nueva asociación civil de artistas que apoya a estudiantes locales con becas”. El premiado alfarero Diego Valles cree lo siguiente: “En Mata Ortiz, somos en verdad una comunidad de artistas. Creo que es por eso que no tenemos límites”.

“La revisión es el alma de los estudios históricos. La historia es un diálogo continuo entre el presente y el pasado. Las interpretaciones del pasado están sujetas al cambio en respuesta a nuevas evidencias, nuevos interrogantes a partir de la evidencia y nuevas perspectivas obtenidas con el paso del tiempo”. James McPherson

De hecho, los alfareros contemporáneos de Mata Ortiz comprenden las oportunidades ilimitadas para aquellos que tienen ideas de diseño vanguardistas y la disciplina para ejecutarlas. Iván Martínez, un ambicioso estudiante de marketing de 24 años de la Universidad de Paquimé y oriundo de Mata Ortiz, relata su éxito de 2014. “Ese año tuve el privilegio de ir a Tonolá, Jalisco”, cuenta Martínez. “No estaba acostumbrado a ir a competencias de alfarería. Ese año, tuve el coraje de presentar una pieza. Para mi sorpresa, mi trabajo ganó el segundo lugar a nivel nacional. Gracias al premio, tengo la motivación para continuar”. Su hermana, la premiada Viviana Martínez, de 19 años y también estudiante universitaria, le da el crédito a su hermano Iván por su propia motivación disciplinada. “Mis padres, hermano y amigos me mantienen innovadora. Cuando voy a la escuela y les digo a mis amigos lo bien que me está yendo, se sorprenden por todos los premios que he ganado y me dicen lo orgullosos que están de mí”, relata.

Ahora la tecnología moderna contribuye a la amplia variedad de posibilidades de promocionar la alfarería y, por lo tanto, de ganarse la vida con el arte. La apremiada alfarería Carla Martínez de Mata Ortiz señala que alrededor del 30% de los artistas jóvenes en el pueblo están conectados a Internet y usan correos electrónicos, Facebook y otros medios de comunicación para contactarse con potenciales compradores. La apremiada Elvira Bugarini Cota es una de las promotoras en línea. Bugarini expresa: “Nuestros nuevos clientes aparecen por Internet. Tenemos clientes por Internet que llaman desde Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen y Acapulco. Sí, Internet nos ha ayudado. Gracias a él, hemos podido llegar a personas de otros lugares que no conocían nuestro trabajo, gente de Francia, España, personas que no sabíamos que podían estar interesadas en nosotros. Internet nos ha servido mucho. Estoy orgullosa de lo que hemos logrado”.

En 2013, la hermana de Bugarini, Laura Bugarini Cota, ganó el primer lugar en la competencia nacional de alfarería en Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Elvira Bugarini enfatiza lo siguiente: “A partir de 2013, hemos visto más interés en nuestro trabajo por parte de la gente en México. Vemos que las personas de México están interesadas en hacer que nuestro trabajo sea bien conocido a nivel nacional”. En cuanto al triunfo, Laura Bugarini reflexiona: “Este es el honor más grande que he tenido. Recibí el premio en Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Lo recibí de las manos del presidente Peña Nieto. Es un gran honor para todos, para mí y para todos los alfareros de aquí que trabajan con barro. El premio es para todos nosotros”.

Así, en el siglo XXI vemos que la alfarería de Mata Ortiz es reconocida en México y más allá. La tradición que comenzó hace siglos con los alfareros de Paquimé, las ollas que replicó Manuel Olivas en la década de 1950 bajo la tutela de su abuela, Leonor Parra, el arte que recrearon Félix Ortiz, Salbador Ortiz y Rojelio Silveira y otros en la década de 1960, el arte que se volvió más amplio con el ingenio de Juan y Nicolás Quezada, ahora recibe extendido reconocimiento nacional e internacional. Ese reconocimiento les permite a los alfareros de Mata Ortiz continuar viviendo del arte y compartir su buena fortuna con otros. Como dice el maestro alfarero Macario Ortiz de Porvenir: “El sol brilla para todos”.

Copyright © 2016 Ron Goebel. Todos los derechos reservados.

Overview of Mata Ortiz

Overview of Mata Ortiz

2012-09-17 13.27.41

Que Milagro? (What a Miracle?)

Que Milagro?  (What a Miracle?)

Today, July 27, 2016, at the Clay Festival in Silver City, New Mexico, visiting Mata Ortiz artist, Diego Valles, staged a reform of sorts: He credited the MATRIARCHS of Mata Ortiz with being the first potters in their community. At last!

For years, the role pot-making grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers played in the Mata Ortiz region was overlooked, sustaining an American-invented tale that pottery making was re-discovered in Mata Ortiz by a man who had never seen a potter at work. Yes, it was an American-invented myth. A myth of male dominance. A myth spread largely by American men with their own business interests and reputations at stake.

“Our grandmothers made utilitarian pottery out of necessity,” Valles asserted. “Pottery was part of the community.” He went on to say that “Later, in the fifties and sixties, it was a group of potters, the Silveiras and others,” that began what we now call the Mata Ortiz Pottery Movement. Collective sigh. It has finally been said out loud that generations of Mexican men and women are to be credited for Mata Ortiz Pottery.

And, Valles went on to speak about the long-held secret of mid-twentieth century pot hunting around Casas Grandes.  “It’s not shameful,” said Valles. “What would YOU do?” he asked, explaining that people were hungry, black market demand was great for ancient pots, the laws about antiquities were looser and many people did not yet understand the cultural significance of ancient artifacts. Years later, Mexican and American researchers were told to keep quiet about early pot hunting in their papers and presentations.

It’s about a hundred years after female potters were working in Mata Ortiz. It’s sixty-five years after Manuel Olivas learned potting in Casas Grandes from his grandmother, Leonor Parra. It’s sixty years after pot hunters like the pioneer Rojelio Silveira unearthed ancient pots in order to feed their families. It’s over fifty years since Silveira, Félix and Emeterio Ortiz, Juan and Nicolás Quezada and Salbador Ortiz began making pots. Now we can breathe a collective sigh as the silence is broken by a contemporary artist who dares to tell us the truth. Mata Ortiz Pottery is not simply a mythic male miracle. It is the result of a diversity of human brilliance, hard work and collaboration. Que milagro!

 

Mata Ortiz: Untold Stories Part One

(Based on our documentary film, “Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories,” this blog post is the first of three articles that presents a clearly articulated and documented revised history of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. In essence, these three posts are a written synthesis of our documentary. According to well-documented recent research, most of the widely-accepted version of Mata Ortiz pottery history that has been written and promoted by Mr. Parks and Mr. MacCallum is unsatisfactory.)

 

THE UNTOLD STORIES OF PAQUIMÉ AND

MATA ORTIZ (PART ONE)

By Ron Goebel and Nancy Andrews

 “There are all kinds of myths that a people has about itself. I think that one job of the historian is to try to cut through some of those myths so that people can face their current situation realistically rather than mythically. I guess that’s my sense of what a historian ought to do.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson

 

Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico lies in a region blessed with high quality claytalented artists and a tradition of ancient ceramics.  Here, nearly a thousand years ago, the Casas Grandes people lived in and around Paquimé, a trading center linking Mesoamerica with cultures to the north, the Hohokam, Mogollon and Anazasi. The Casas Grandes people vanished from the area in the fifteenth century, leaving behind a legacy of pottery.

Looting of archaeological sites around Paquimé may well have been ongoing for decades, if not centuries. However, former pothunters from nearby Mata Ortiz say that their looting of Paquimé began in the 1960s. In order to make a living and support their families, these mid-twentieth century pothunters excavated much of the area around Casas Grandes and Mata Ortiz, removed pots sometimes by the truck bed load, and sold the pieces to traders and collectors, including Americans. By the mid-1960s this pothunting created a demand that exceded the supply of ancient pots. Archaeologists Nancy Kelker and Karen O. Bruhns state that “local artisans quickly stepped in to fill the void.” Artisans from Mata Ortiz and Casas Grandes, no longer able to meet the demand for ancient pots, began fashioning replicas they called hechizas. Many former looters, including present-day potter Rojelio Silveira, experimented with clay with the intention of making their contemporary pots appear prehistoric. The artisans themselves, along with Mexican traders, successfully sold the replicas to collectors and shopkeepers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border throughout much of the 1960s and 1970s. While current popular myth mistakenly has it that no pothunting occurred, that indeed Mata Ortiz pottery evolved from one self-taught artist discovered by an American man, Nuevo Casas Grandes author Professor Julián Hernández Chávez asserts that this earlier pothunting “is not a secret.”

Professor Hernández, whose family has lived in the area for more than two centuries, states that Casas Grandes potter Manuel Olivas was the first potter in the area to use Paquimé designs on contemporary pottery.

Manuel Olivas told Professor Hernández that he learned to work with clay in 1952 from his grandmother, Leonor Parra. While Parra, like other women in the area, was skilled in utilitarian potmaking, Manuel Olivas began to make pieces for decorative purposes. His designs were based on ancient Paquimé motifs. Beginning modestly in the 1950s, Olivas and his brothers became prolific potmakers throughout the 1960s and beyond. In fact, in 1976 when an American man named Spencer MacCallum arrived in Nuevo Casas Grandes looking for the artist who had made his three pots, local people directed him to the home of Manuel Olivas. (MacCallum had apparently bought these pots in southern New Mexico.)

“Revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, and new perspectives gained by the passage of time.”  James McPherson

In 1979, in An Odyssey Complete and Continuing, Spencer MacCallum wrote about potter Juan Quezada that, “There was none in Chihuahua for him to copy,” and that Quezada’s rediscovery of ceramic technology occurred “without ever having…seen a potter at work.” This is blatantly incorrect. However, Professor Julián Hernández affirms that just before encountering Quezada in 1976, MacCallum met, and saw pottery by, Manuel Olivas. According to Hernández, it was Olivas, believing Spencer MacCallum’s pots had been made by any one of several working potters in Mata Ortiz, who directed MacCallum to Mata Ortiz where he then met Juan Quezada. Professor Hernández goes on to say that “in Mata Ortiz, the first one [potter] probably was Félix Ortiz.”

Mata Ortiz potter Marisela Ortiz of Barrio Porvenir remembers her father Félix. “Around here,” she says, “people know Félix Ortiz was the one who started it all. Some people are upset around here. People here regard my father, Félix Ortiz, as the first potter in Mata Ortiz. We would be so proud if one day people would acknowlege him for who he was….” Marisela’s great uncle, Jesús Ortiz, adds, “Juan wasn’t the first. My nephew Félix was first. And then his brother Emeterio. Juan used to come and look at Félix’s pots. But then something happened. They fought. If you want to know what Félix’s pots looked like, go ask Juan Quezada. He looked at them!”

According to research by Mata Ortiz scholar, Jim Hills of Tucson, Arizona, indeed several people in the Porvenir neighborhood were making pottery in the 1970s. Porvenir potters Rojelio Silveira, Emeterio Ortiz, Félix Ortiz and Salbador Ortiz all made Mata Ortiz pottery in the early 1970s. In his paper, “Reconstructing a Miracle” in the University of Arizona’s Journal of the Southwest, Hills states, “MacCallum continually customized his story over the years in an attempt to promote a single narrative, which required omitting, modifying or diluting facts.” The Ortiz and Silveira potters were among those omissions.

Thus, according to Hills, “a blend of well-meaning entrepreneurial strategies, reticence, forgetfulness, imagination, exaggeration and romantic notions of reality have shaped the Mata Ortiz narrative.”

Essentially, two American voices shaped this incomplete history of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. In 1993 Walter Parks wrote a book based partially on MacCallum’s notes. In the book’s acknowledgements, Parks states, “Spencer MacCallum was especially generous, opening all of his files to me and reviewing the text.” Based on new evidence, that history is deficient and its perspective limited. It tells only part of the story. Many significant Mexican families were excluded.

Mata Ortiz: Documentary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

2015 Groundbreaking Film, Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories

Reveals true and inclusive stories previously overlooked and discounted

 

      Filmmaker Ron Goebel presents a new documentary shot on location in Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. Interviews with artists and researchers native to the region disclose the town’s accurate and complete history which has up to now been clouded by outside myths.

       Through moving interviews and thoughtful research, Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories presents a rare look at the true history of a remarkable village. Revelations by researchers Julián Hernández and Jim Hills, by archaeologist Fabiola Silva, and by artists including Marisela Ortiz and Diego Valles expose an older, more inclusive, more extensive Mata Ortiz pottery movement than has previously been put forward. 

       Award-winning artists including Laura Bugarini, Héctor Gallegos Jr. and Carla Martínez shine as they discuss their art and village life. In addition to his insightful interview, potter/guitarist Elí Navarrete provides traditional Mexican music throughout the film.

      The film is $25.00 plus $5.00 shipping. Total is $30.00. Send payment to Ron Goebel, 772 South Ocean Avenue, Cayucos, California 93430. You can pay with Paypal also.

      The DVD is also available by clicking on “Blog” at www.mataortizpottery.com; at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson; and from artists and businesses in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

 

      These are quotes from the documentary:

       “Manuel Olivas was the first modern potter to use Paquimé motifs in the region. He started in 1952.” —Professor Julián Hernández     

       “Juan Quezada was not the first potter in Mata Ortiz. My nephew Félix Ortiz was first. And then his brother Emeterio.” —Jesús Ortiz Aguilera      

       “We would be so proud if people would recognize our father Félix Ortiz for whom he was, a master potter…a pioneer of Mata Ortiz pottery.”—Marisela Ortiz      

       In thanking the filmmakers, Professor Hernández says, “We thank you. You are our voice, for the potters, and not just the potters, but for all the people.”

 

Now, what was left out of the story is part of the story.

 

OUR NEIGHBORS IN MATA ORTIZ: VIEWED THROUGH A STERLING LENS

OUR NEIGHBORS IN MATA ORTIZ: VIEWED THROUGH A STERLING LENS

 

By Nancy Andrews, Silver City, New Mexico

Copyright Nancy Andrews 2014

(In early 2014 Donald Sterling was the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association or NBA. He was banned for life after he made racist remarks. His paternalistic remarks were equally disturbing and are the topic of this discussion.)

 

When Donald Sterling asked, “Who makes the game?” he gave voice to his flawed perception that a pale, maturing owner was the essence of a professional basketball team, a team rich with young Black talent. “Do they make the game?” Sterling queried. And a league of strong voices countered together, Yes! We make the game! We make basketball! In one telling day, Sterling was on his way out and the Los Angeles Clippers prevailed without him. Regardless of Sterling’s view, basketball players do make the game. It’s unfortunate that many of us, although well meaning, view the artists of Mata Ortiz through our own similarly flawed lenses.

        Mexican artists make Mexican art; Mexican potters deserve full credit for their ceramics. Seven hundred years ago, Casas Grandes civilization flourished for several centuries in what would become Mexico.  The center of Casas Grandes, a city we call Paquime, stood near the site of present-day Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua. A number of Casas Grandes people were exceptional artists and left a legacy of fine ceramics. In the twentieth century, a loosely aligned league of Mexican potters, Manuel Olivas, Emeterio Ortiz, Felix Ortiz, Salvador Ortiz, Juan Quezada, Nicolas Quezada, Nicolas Silveira, Rojelio Silveira and others, pioneered the renaissance of Casas Grandes ceramics, now known as Mata Ortiz Pottery. Visitors from the United States played important roles in making the pottery known to people north of the border. Still, as artist Juan Quezada suggests in the Journal of the Southwest, the potters of Mata Ortiz were destined for success with or without connections to any particular agents. Mata Ortiz Pottery was already on the road to greatness when strangers arrived. Mexicans, working together and learning from one another, brought forth the rebirth of Casas Grandes pottery. It took a village, a Mexican village.

Today that village is a vibrant community of artists. Phones, paved roads, email and social media are fast-flowing arteries of communication for this society of worldly potters. They are wise and eloquent professionals, some are English-speaking, and many travel frequently to the United States. They live but a few hours from Silver City, Las Cruces and Tucson. Yet, go to almost any Southwest U.S. forum on Mata Ortiz and observe the speakers. Pay close attention. Are they the best spokespersons for this Mexican art form? Is the history inclusive and complete? Are artists’ dreams and the community’s plans discussed first hand? When needed, do objective translators facilitate direct exchange between presenter and audience? Or is communication impeded by a kind of wall of white, a construct disproportionately non-Latino? Is lopsided attention given to Anglo experience, opinion and influence? Listen carefully. Does the narrative reinforce a subtly colonial point of view? Perhaps emphasis is placed on what we outsiders have done in, and for, Mata Ortiz, rather than what Mata Ortiz potters have done in, and for, the world of art. Have we grown paternalistic and comfortable with that scenario? Maybe like Donald Sterling, some of us cling to lenses that have no place in today’s new forum.

Some of us like to envision the Mata Ortiz of a romanticized past. However, the people of Mata Ortiz are twenty-first century multidimensional individuals, not potters in a stagnant exhibition. Their art is ever-evolving. Each Mata Ortiz potter, like any successful artist, is the creator of her own authenticity, the master of his unique destiny. Only an artist from Mata Ortiz can speak compellingly of his creative desires. Only a Mexican potter can adequately share the truth of her heritage. Mata Ortiz pottery is theirs, an endeavor over which they alone have genuine command. Their art and lives develop in ways only they can articulate. We must listen to their voices. In the words of Mata Ortiz artist Diego Valles, “I believe there should be a potter or citizen of Mata Ortiz in every discussion about it. Don’t you think?” Who can disagree?

As gracious Americans, let’s move to the sidelines. Our view is limited, our commentary incomplete. Let’s make way for the people who are crafting their own extraordinary pottery movement. Let’s hear new voices respectfully revise the outsider-embedded account by presenting a balanced narrative that honors all players in the Mata Ortiz story. It’s 2014 and time for a broad vision of Mata Ortiz and its living Latino art, an image not distorted by Sterling lenses. Let’s welcome a chorus of “Nosotros hacemos las ollas, nosotros hacemos el arte.”  “We make the pots, we make the art.”

 

 Nancy Andrews is the author of the award-winning children’s book, THE POT THAT JUAN BUILT / LA VASIJA QUE JUAN FABRICO, as told to her by Juan Quezada, and illustrated by David Diaz. A percentage of the book’s royalties goes to Mata Ortiz to be used as individuals there determine.