Familia de Andres Villalba, mas o menos 2006. This is the family of Andres Villalba, photo from 2006 or so. They are great friends.
Eduardo “Chevo” Ortiz (RIP) and his wife Tencha made large graphite black on black pots. Chevo grew up in Barrio Porvenir; his brothers are Santos, Nicolas and Macario.
Chevo’s work appeared in the influential 1995 University of New Mexico Art Museum exhibition. Chevo was a great host and very talented potter. His son, Eligio “Eli,” continues the family pottery tradition today in Porvenir. It’s an honor to show his work. Es un honor mostrar su obra. Follow the tradition. Siga la tradicion.
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.”
Jerardo (Jera) Tena is the nephew of Félix Ortiz. Félix and many others were pioneers of pottery in Mata Ortiz. Jera lives in Barrio Porvenir. Jera says, “When I was eight years old I collected clay and manure with my Uncle Félix. I looked at the clay and pottery while my uncle worked. That’s how I learned.”
Unlike Félix, Jera does not make blackware. He is best known for well-polished polychrome animal effigies and has won First Place award five times at the Concurso, the nationally sponsored competition of Mata Ortiz pottery.
The first photo shows penguin effigies in process from 2017. The second photo shows a sheep effigy from 2008.
This pot by Sabino Villalba depicts a god of Paquimé, part man and part parrot, swimming with a parrot tucked under his arm. The crosshatching represents a shaman. The spiral is a dust devil or tornado. Great work and flawless painting. (Not for sale) Sabino is the son of well known and highly respected Andres Villalba.
Esta olla de Sabino “Caby” Villalba representa a un dios de Paquimé, parte hombre y parte guacamaya, nadando con un guacamaya escondido bajo su brazo. El cruce de rayos representa a un chamán. La espiral es un diablo de polvo o tornado. Gran trabajo y pintura impecable. Sabino es hijo del muy conocido y muy respetado Andrés Villalba.
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. Until now that history has been incomplete and mythical.
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.
THE UNTOLD STORIES OF PAQUIMÉ AND
MATA ORTIZ (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.”
Carlotta Boetcher poses this topic for discussion:
“What is your position on lumping together as potters, those who never touch the clay, never make the clay piece, only paint something they bought from someone who supplies ready-to-paint pots vs. the potters who dig, wash, knead, and prepare their own clay and make all of their own vessels in preparation for the paint or any further decoration they may deem appropriate? …Top awards are given without distinction…much complaining about this issue…Could be an interesting topic.”
THE SPECIALIZATION DILEMMA
IN MATA ORTIZ POTTERY
by Nancy Andrews
Art and craft specialization is certainly nothing new to traditional art communities. Some Navajo weavers employ specialization (spinners, dyers, sheep handlers, etc) as a means to more efficiently create rugs and blankets. These days, they are very open about it. In addition to efficiency, specialization maintains a role in the art process for elder weavers who may no longer be able to weave, and yet continue to be expert dyers or spinners. Specialization may in fact have begun decades ago, and is a practice we’re just now more aware of. In Navajo culture, no judgment is attached to those who specialize and those who don’t. As Navajo weaving expert Ann Hedlund says, “The choice to specialize, or not, is left up to the individual weaver. It is her business.”
A number of Pueblo potters practice specialization, (pot makers, painters, firing experts…), and in many cases are quite open about it. Like Navajo weavers, some Pueblo potters find the practice not only efficient, but a way for individuals to excel in the areas they find most interesting, satisfying, profitable or enjoyable. And like weaving, pottery with its lengthy and multiple steps from start to finish lends itself, almost inevitably leads, to specialization. An artist may in fact be skilled at each step (in pottery: digging clay, preparing clay, pot building, burnishing, paint making, brush construction, painting, fuel gathering, firing; in rug making: sheep raising, sheering, carding, spinning, dying, loom construction, weaving), but in an effort toward more sales and family sustenance, she may choose the efficiency of specialization and the gainful employment of community specialists.
Yet, in the 1997 documentary “Mata Ortiz Pottery: An Inside Look,” Mata Ortiz potter Macario Ortiz asserts that “a real potter does it all.” And yet, Macario Ortiz openly utilizes specialization in the creation of his pots. Perhaps this illustrates that the specialization issue is not an “either/or” dilemma. It is simply the choice of the artist.
My subjective opinion, not being expert in the matter, is that it is the honesty of the artist that matters most. When an artist specializes, she must embrace it, acknowledge it, honor the others involved in the process. We must remember, as Navajo sentiment apparently tends to go, that specialization is a matter for the individual with no judgment attached. That said, a great potter does indeed know how to do it all. And if sometimes he may prefer to include and acknowledge others in the process, that is his option.
A potter who in fact does do it all must be honored for his breadth of knowledge, diligence and talent. The singular integrity of his finished product is a unique achievement. His intimate knowledge of every step of the process that led to the completed pot is an accomplishment to be revered.
Myself, I stand in awe of all talented potters. Truly remarkable work is the fruit of specialization. And yet I feel an almost spiritual connection to a pot that was created, earth to fire, by one individual. I’m happy to have both in my collection.
I wonder…in competitions should there be separate categories? I don’t know.
I wonder, did the Paquime potters specialize? I don’t know.
I wonder too, what are your thoughts on the matter? Let us know.
In 2003, in a match no doubt blessed by the ancient potters themselves, Hector Gallegos Junior and Laura Bugarini were married, That union united two of the best known pottery families in Mata Ortiz. Both Hector and Laura are frequent award winners at the numerous concursos and other pottery events throughout Mexico and the United States. These days, Hector and Laura’s work is in huge demand, usually requiring waiting lists, often lengthy ones.
In addition to his art, Hector Gallegos Jr. is dedicated to fitness and body building. He competes, and frequently wins or places, in body building competitions in Mexico and the United States. Along with his pottery studio, Hector has his own gym at the back of his home in Barrio Americano. Laura supports him in his fitness passion by making sure his diet is nutritious. Laura and Hector also collaborate on pottery projects, as well as continuing to make their own individual pieces. Their daughter Pablita attends private school with high academic standards and English curriculum. Hector too is acquiring good English language skills, sometimes practicing with ten-year-old Pabla.
Hector is a founding member of El Grupo Siete, The Group of Seven, an alliance of Mata Ortiz artists working for positive, locally envisioned change in the village. The Gallegos family often travels to the United States and throughout Mexico for art, body building and Group of Seven functions, as well as fun. They are indeed a 21st Century pottery family, wise, worldly and working for the transformation they want to see. Hector is part of a remarkable new wave of Mata Ortiz potters that has been called “the Young Turks.” In so many good ways, they all live up to that global comparison.
Juan Quezada, Laura Bugarini, Pabla Gallegos and Hector Gallegos Junior at the Concurso in Mata Ortiz, 2012.
Bravo to Silver City’s Clay Festival, already a stellar annual event! Check out the program the Festival offers on Sunday, August 3, 2014,10 A.M, at Seedboat Center for the Arts. For the first time, a Mata Ortiz artist, Diego Valles, will participate in a panel discussion about Mata Ortiz Pottery. Diego’s pottery was the talk of last year’s Festival. This year Diego has the opportunity to speak on stage about the success he and other Mexican artists are having with contemporary pottery techniques as a 21st Century Mata Ortiz strives for continued excellence. And Clay Festival listeners will have the first of what will no doubt be many opportunities to hear a Mata Ortiz potter broaden our perspectives on their living Latino Art. Congrats to the Clay Festival on this important first!
Another first time panel participant, Western New Mexico Professor Emeritus Claude Smith, also a professional potter, will join Diego in the discussion. Even as we post this, Claude is hard at work creating his own ceramic magic for the Festival! His vases, mugs and decorative plates will delight viewers and tempt buyers alike. Claude’s knowledge of pottery is sure to enlighten listeners and help us all to better appreciate clay creations showcased in the 2014 Clay Festival. Claude is truly a Silver City treasure.
In the meantime, check out the amazing contemporary work of Diego Valles downtown at Seedboat Center for the Arts, 214 W. Yankie St., Silver City, New Mexico. Enjoy Claude’s outstanding pieces when they are featured at Western New Mexico University Museum, Saturday, August 2nd, 3-6 PM. Let’s go!