Category Archives: artist

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!

 

Eli Navarrete Ortiz

Photos All 025

What a pretty pot!

What a pretty pot!

 

Elí Navarrete describes his painting technique: ”A design is like a dream that passes through and at that moment you paint it on the piece.”

After marrying Virginia “Vicki” Hernandez, Elí shared his knowledge of clay with her. Vickie now produces very fine museum-quality colored pots.

Continuing the Ortiz family tradition of experimentation and innovation, Navarrete says, “I had little practice with painting the interiors. Then for the national pottery contest at Tlaquepaque, Jalisco it was the first time I painted the interior of the pot. It’s a really difficult technique due to painting with only the wrist and because of the technical precision. It’s very new to me and in reality I’m still experimenting.”

Elisito Ortiz dressed in a local Paquime costume for a fiesta.  He is the son of Eli Navarrete and Virginia (Vicki) Hernandez.

Elisito Ortiz dressed in a local Paquime costume for a fiesta.
He is the son of Eli Navarrete and Virginia (Vicki) Hernandez.

Brothers Felix and Emeterio Ortiz, two of the pioneers of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. Many people say Felix was among the first to make pots in Mata Ortiz. Some say that Felix was the first one in the village making pots.

Brothers Felix and Emeterio Ortiz, two of the pioneers of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. Many people say Felix was among the first to make pots in Mata Ortiz. Some say that Felix was the first one in the village making pots.

 

 

Blog photo green hills Sept 2012

MATA ORTIZ: OPEN LETTER

Open Letter

 Ay Ay Ay

The Mexican Consulate in El Paso is preparing to commemorate an American presence in Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. It is important to note that along with economic development, the U.S. presence brought with it paternalistic myths and misbehavior. The male Anglo-centric legend of Mata Ortiz pottery neglects the critical initial role of women utilitarian potters in the region. Additionally, the myth excludes early Mexican traders and entire groups of early commercial potters, such as those in Nuevo Casas Grandes and the Porvenir neighborhood of Mata Ortiz, in the recklessly incomplete American version of the development of Mexican Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. Why the Mexican Consulate chooses to commemorate exclusionary and irresponsible non-native behavior in their beautiful country is a mystery. The contemporary pottery of Mata Ortiz is indeed some of the best in the world. The Mata Ortiz artists, from the earliest Olivas, Ortiz, Quezada and Silveira potters to those of today, are recognized internationally. But generally speaking the American “‘I’ ‘I’ ‘I’” version of the U.S. presence in the region is not exemplary. Mexican potters, and Mexican potters alone, are responsible for the extraordinary ceramics renaissance in and around Mata Ortiz.

MATA ORTIZ SPECIALIZATION

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.

 

 

Mata Ortiz Sgrafitto: Hector Gallegos Jr.

 

Hector Junior 10  2011

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.

Blog Hector Laura Juan 2012

Juan Quezada, Laura Bugarini, Pabla Gallegos and Hector Gallegos Junior at the Concurso in Mata Ortiz, 2012.

 

MATA ORTIZ: MORE ANGELS AMONG US (This is what we’re talking about!)

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!