Category Archives: Revisionist history

Documentary Film and Research, “Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories”

Mata Ortiz train station, 2012. This is the site for the concurso, the pottery competition. Pot is by Javier Martinez. Note the first place ribbon.

Mata Ortiz train station, 2012. This is the site for the concurso, the pottery competition. Pot is by Javier Martinez. Note the first place ribbon.


This documentary presents a more complete history of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition.

In this documentary several new voices articulate a more accurate picture of the early years.

The story from Spencer MacCallum about Mata Ortiz focuses on only one person; it has become clear that many people created the contemporary pottery movement.

The Mata Ortiz pottery tradition emerged as a group effort, not from a single man’s inspiration. This film shows that many people were included. The traditional out-of-date narrative excluded many.

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

You can see the film on The Vimeo link is:

Vimeo is more or less an upscale YouTube. It’s free. It’s for filmmakers.





The Storm, the Protesters, and the Would-be Purge

The Storm, the Protesters, and the Would-be Purge
(The purge never happened. But a more authentic history emerged.)

The following thoughts were originally published by Joseph Wilder, Editor, Journal of the Southwest, Volume 56, Number 4, Winter 2014, and were written about what he regarded as Jim Hills’s “landmark” perspectives on the history of Mata Ortiz. Wilder is responding here to what he calls “orchestrated” criticisms of the groundbreaking work.

Per Joseph Wilder:
The Journal of the Southwest (54, 1, Spring, 2012) published a special issue on the pottery-making traditions of Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. “Forgotten Tributaries of the Palanganas: Untold Stories from Mata Ortiz” was edited by Jim Hills , and included articles across a broad spectrum of Mata Ortiz life and production, including interviews with potters, photo essays, discussion of the social life of the village, analyses of art and craft practiced over decades. It was a landmark issue on a significant place and its meaning. Central to the issue was a section dedicated to “New Perspectives” on the phenomenon of Mata Ortiz, and at the heart of that section was Jim Hills’ 78-page essay, “Reconstructing a Miracle: New Perspectives on Mata Ortiz Pottery Making.” Publication of this article ignited a storm. A group of American residents of Mata Ortiz or Americans with deep personal and professional ties to the village and its craft production made their displeasure with Hills’ revisionist history and the beginnings of modern Mata Ortiz pottery-making plain. Besides email and letters to me personally, as editor of the journal, there was an orchestrated letter campaign to various officials at the University of Arizona, our academic home, including to our college dean and the president of the University. There were also, I hasten to add, positive – indeed, glowing – reviews and responses sent to me. I responded at length to a number of the protestors, who often called for us to retract the publication (after admonishing us that the publication should not have been published at all, despite normal peer review); usually the critical letters focused on the putative lack of objectivity in Hills’ piece, and this was something I took particular pains to address. I quote from one of my responses:
“Jim’s piece makes real claims – but he does not claim to have spoken the final word; instead, as his publisher, Jim’s effort opens a conversation and it is a powerful opening that is the essence of scholarship. You state a concern with “objectivity”, implying that this issue (and Jim’s essay in particular) fail on that score. Again, while you do not support this charge, you also do not specify what “objective” might mean in this case. The term, of course, is loaded, and there exist literally shelves of materials accumulated over the last 150 years of social science research contesting, analyzing, and plain worrying about that concept. A useful way to think about “objectivity” in human affairs (as opposed to observing molecules through a microscope) is to think in terms of transparency, openness, and intersubjectivity and to remember that in human sciences the “theorist” is a part of that which he theorizes: we do not stand outside of the history we seek to understand; rather we of necessity inform and belong to that history – such are our limitations, and Jim Hills never transgresses those limitations – indeed he respects them, as do I and as does Journal of the Southwest.”
The key of course is the notion of dialogue or conversation. In another correspondence I wrote:
“Jim has written a new narrative history of aspects of Mata Ortiz. He, admittedly, does not pull punches, nor should he. It counters a prevailing, dominant narrative that has held sway for several decades. No doubt this version may be challenged – and further developed – especially since it seems that Jim’s essay has broken through an insularity that is a working danger of small communities of knowledge – and this is a good thing. Ultimately it will be nice to hear the voices – directly – of the Mexicans themselves and how they might construct the narration of their recent history. All of this is the normal intellectual development of the history of time and place, and it shocks me that it seems to be unacceptable to some. It goes without saying – or should – that the way to respond to new narratives to which you might disagree is with your own carefully researched, thought out article – that is reviewed, refereed, and published in the scholarly literature. Indeed, in all of the social sciences, this is exactly the way scholarship proceeds. We are not publishing coffee table books – nor are we publishing magazines or op ed newspapers. We are the arena for academic, scholarly engagement, in all its messy glory. There is a lovely concept of Hegel’s about history – the loving struggle of opposites – the “agon” or agony that provides continually renewed, provisional “truths” of history. This is at bottom what the intellectual enterprise is about: we challenge reigning paradigms, we challenge ourselves and our complacency, we risk ourselves in the marketplace of ideas, and out of that struggle do emerge hard-won truths that imperfectly begin to describe the world we live in and create. My job as an academic publisher is to reflect that struggle and to provide the means for it to occur.”

Mata Ortiz History

Mata Ortiz History, Notes from Ron Goebel and Nancy Andrews

“There’s the story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told. Then there’s what you leave out of the story. Which is part of the story too. “   Margaret Atwood

From the late 1970s: “An Odyssey Complete and Continuing” written by Spencer MacCallum. Only one potter is mentioned. MacCallum claims that the modern Mata Ortiz pottery tradition was started by one person. Research shows that this claim is false.

In 1994 Walter Parks wrote the “Miracle of Mata Ortiz..” As usual, several people helped him with his book. In Acknowledgements Parks wrote:  “…MacCallum was especially generous, opening all of his files to me and reviewing the text.” This was the first edition of the book. MacCallum reviewed the test; essentially MacCallum approved the text of the book.

Many years later a second edition of this book was published. Per Ana Livingston in the Journal of the Southwest, “Mr. Parks reprinted “The Miracle of Mata Ortiz….”

This second edition is a larger book beautifully reprinted with a stunning pot by Juan Quezada on the cover. However, there was “a complete deletion of a section by author and former village pottery trader and business owner Michael Allan Williams [Mike Williams].”

The first edition states that Parks helped to finance the hotel of Mike Williams.

The second edition of his book deletes any mention of Michael Williams. Veterans of Mata Ortiz confirm that Williams was a scandalous exploiter of children. Williams was purged from the second edition. Parks did not want to be associated with Williams. Why?




They Were Written Out of Their Own History

2012-09-18 14.39.472012-09-17 15.34.52

Written Out of Their Own History


All research was done in Mata Ortiz. This post is inspired by Ana Livingston’s article in the Journal of the Southwest, Winter 2016.

The first time Ana Livingston visited Mata Ortiz, Spencer MacCallum told her: the modern pottery began with one man. Then that man taught many others. Livingston thought this was “a well-fashioned traders tale” intended to market the pottery. As a student in my class at Western New Mexico University stated, “It was a marketing ploy.”

Months after talking with MacCallum, Ana was told by a laborer from Mata Ortiz: “What has been said about how the pottery began is not true. It was several people, my extended family and family friends [who started the pottery].”

MacCallum tells a story. That story is appealing in many ways. The story may help to sell the pottery. But there are a lot of problems with MacCallum’s narrative. As Livingston says, “…many of the initial potters had been written out of their own history.”


Omitido De Su Propia Historia

Toda la investigación se realizó en Mata Ortiz.

Esta publicación está inspirada en el artículo de Ana Livingston en el Journal of the Southwest, Invierno 2016.

La primera vez que Ana Livingston visitó a Mata Ortiz, Spencer Mac- Callum le dijo: la alfarería moderna comenzó con un solo hombre. Solamente una persona. Entonces ese hombre enseñó a muchos otros. Livingston pensó que se trataba de “un cuento de comerciantes bien diseñado” destinado a comercializar la cerámica. Como estudiante de mi clase en Western New Mexico University, declaró: “Fue una estratagema de marketing.”

Meses después de hablar con MacCallum, un trabajador de Mata Ortiz le dijo a Ana: “Lo que han dicho de como comenzó la cerámica no es verdad! Fueron varios, mis familiares y sus amigos [que comenzaron la cerámica].”

MacCallum cuenta una historia. Esa historia es atractiva de muchas maneras. La historia puede ayudar a vender la cerámica. Pero hay muchos problemas con la narrativa de MacCallum. Como dice Livingston, “… muchos de los alfareros iniciales habían escrito de [borrado] su propia historia”.


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 Three



By Ron Goebel and Nancy Andrews

Likewise, young artists today are quick to credit the community with their achievements and to share their successes with colleagues. Award-winning potter Héctor Gallegos Junior goes so far as to credit the land itself, along with his parents, for his inspiration and accomplishments. “All of our materials,” he explains, “come from our land, so it is very important to me. Most of our lands have been cultivated for many generations by my family. Apart from pottery, most people live off their land. Because of my love of nature, I began doing the animals and insects of northern Mexico in my pottery.” Gallegos goes on to illustrate his devotion to the community of Mata Ortiz. “When we travel to exhibitions, we show our work, but we also talk about the community. We don’t just promote ourselves. We promote the whole community. For example, Group of Seven is a new civil association of artists that supports local students with scholarships.” Award-winning potter Diego Valles believes, “In Mata Ortiz, we are really a community of artists. I think because of that, we have no limits.”

“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

Indeed, contemporary Mata Ortiz potters understand the boundless opportunities for those who have innovative design ideas and the discipline to execute them. Ambitious twenty-four year old Iván Martínez, a Mata Oriz native and marketing student at the Technological University of Paquimé, recounts his 2014 success. “That year I had the privilege of going to Tonolá, Jalisco,” says Martínez. “I was not accustomed to going to pottery competitions. That year, I got enough courage to enter a piece. To my surprise, my piece won second place at the national level. Thanks to the prize, I am motivated to keep going.” His sister, nineteen-year-old award winner Viviana Martínez, also a university student, credits brother Iván with her own disciplined motivation. “My parents, my brother Iván and my friends keep me innovative. When I go to school and tell my friends how well it’s going for me, they are surprised because of how many prizes I’ve won. My friends say how proud they are of me,” she says.

Modern technology now contributes to the wide range of  possibilities for marketing pottery and therefore making a living in art. Prize-winning Mata Ortiz potter Carla Martínez says that about thirty percent of the young artists in the village are connected to the internet and use email, Facebook and other social media to communicate with potential buyers. Award winner Elvira Bugarini Cota is one of those marketing online. Says Bugarini, “Our new clients are through the internet. We have internet clients who call from Cancún, Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen and Acapulco. Yes, the internet has helped us. Because of it we’ve been able to reach people from many places who didn’t know our work before, people from France, Spain, people we didn’t know could be interested in us. The internet has served us well. I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”

In 2013, Bugarini’s sister, Laura Bugarini Cota, won first place in the national pottery competition in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Elvira Bugarini emphasiszes that, “From 2013 on, we have seen more interest in our work from people in Mexico. We’re seeing that people in Mexico are interested in making our work well known nationally.” Regarding the win, Laura Bugarini reflects, “This was the greatest honor that I’ve had. I received the award at Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. I received it from the hands of President Peña Nieto. It’s a very big honor for everybody, for me and for all the potters here who work in clay. The award is for all of us.”

So, in the twenty-first century we see that Mata Ortiz pottery is  recognized in Mexico and beyond. The tradition that began centuries ago with the potters at Paquimé, pots that were replicated in the 1950s by Manuel Olivas under the tutelage of his grandmother, Leonor Parra, art that was recreated in the 1960s by Félix Ortiz, Salbador Ortiz and Rojelio Silveira and others, work that became even more extensive with the genius of Juan and Nicolas Quezada, is now receiving widespread national and international recognition. That recognition allows the potters of Mata Ortiz to continue making a living in art, and it allows them to share their good fortune with others. As Porvenir master potter Macario Ortiz says, “The sun shines for everybody.”

Mata Ortiz: Untold Stories Part Two



By Ron Goebel and Nancy Andrews


“It is time to include more voices and expand the history of the

Mata Ortiz pottery tradition into a more complete account.”

-From the 2015 documentary, “Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories”


Pottery in Mata Ortiz emerged as a group effort. Documentation by researcher Fabiola Silva shows that in Mata Ortiz the pottery tradition began as a group effort and not as a single man’s inspiration. Professor Julián Hernandez concurs: “They started working with the clay…all together…to get better skills to do their pottery.”

Speaking of the 1960s and early 1970s, her father’s early years in pottery, Maricela Ortiz reaffirms this group effort. “Yes, my father Félix Ortiz was one of the first ones who began working in clay, he and some of his friends,” she says. Along with his brother, Emeterio, Félix’s potter friends included Rojelio Silveira, and Salbador Ortiz, uncle of contemporary artist Elí Navarrete.

Eli Navarrete remembers his own early years of learning to make pots in Barrio Porvenir. “I hung out with Félix and his older brother Emeterio. They were pioneers with Juan Quezada. And one of the first ones to use new techniques was my uncle, Salbador Ortiz. On the weekends I spent time with family and friends and we would talk about finding new materials and tools.”

Pioneer Mata Ortiz potter Rojelio Silveira concurs, stating that in the 1960s Salbador Ortiz was one of the original potters in the village. In a 2012 interview with Mata Ortiz documentarian Richard Ryan, Silveira says, “I was about 21 years old when I began making pots. It was before I married.” The year was 1965. “That’s when I made a pot with two faces, an effigy. Félix [Ortiz] made a small bowl and my friend Chava [Salbador Ortiz] made a small pot. That’s the way we started. It started when I said to them, ‘Let’s make a pot.’” Silveira had been a pothunter, and so it occurred to him to make a pot himself. “So they said, OK, let’s give it a try, and we did. All together. Felix Ortiz, myself Rojelio Silveira, and Salbador Ortiz. The three of us.”


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.)




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.

The documentary  “Mata Ortiz: The Untold Stories,” 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.

Mata Ortiz: Documentary


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 $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping. Total is $25.00. 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; 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.