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Professor Julian Hernandez, Paquime

Julian Hernandez is a professor and professional potter, specializing in traditional pre-Hispanic Casas Grandes-style pots. He lives in Nuevo Casas Grandes.

 

Efforts Made to Rescue the Ceramics of Paquimé

By Julián Alejandro Hernández Chávez, 2013, translated from Spanish

Background information

During the pre-Hispanic period, the Paquimé culture can be considered the most important in northern Mexico outside of the Mesoamerican area. It was located in northwestern Chihuahua and presently covers approximately eight municipalities reaching the border at the northeastern part of the state of Sonora.

This culture flourished approximately from 700 to 1500 AD. Presently, in this region, there are about two thousand archaeological sites. Most of them have not been studied. In some isolated cases, foreign academics have carried out research, as is the case of the City of Paquimé investigated by the Amerind Foundation of Arizona, U.S.A. represented by Charles C. Di Peso. Eduardo Contreras Sánchez was the INAH representative on Mexico’s behalf. They carried out extraordinary field work between 1958 and 1961 and worked on the project another 15 years by publishing a unique collection of archaeological works written by specialists in related fields. The first three volumes are devoted to general knowledge of the Paquimé culture; volumes four to eight are reference works for archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and specialists in the field.

In the mid seventies, research of Paquimé in Mexico practically came to a standstill but it continued steadily in the U.S. where various groups of archaeologists from several universities carried out studies during different periods. They slowly enriched the documentary archives about this great culture.

One aspect that was studied was the pottery; it gives us information about the people who made it, the artists’ and artisans’ magical abilities and about the people who lived in the region during that era. Paquimé ceramics are unique; they are a representation of the ancient inhabitants of Chihuahua and contribute to the knowledge of the development of its inhabitants through time and help to place this culture within a larger regional context.

Today, a new kind of artistic expression has appeared almost spontaneously in the region. It is the production of low temperature ceramics inspired by the old pieces created by the ancient culture. In a relatively short time, about thirty years, it has come to occupy a space in popular art; a space that had been the exclusive domain of the great artisan masters and artists from the traditional ceramic production centers that had been in business for two or three hundred years. The new Paquimé ceramics that are made using traditional methods similar to the ancient ones are gaining ground, especially those made in the town of Juan Mata Ortiz in the municipality of Casas Grandes which have been recognized at national and international levels. These artists and artisans have brought many benefits to the communities where these ceramics are made.

My entry to the world of Paquimé ceramics dates from 1972 when I met the archaeologist Eduardo Contreras Sánchez who had been the INAH representative during the great exploration between 1958 and 1961. At that time, he was responsible for the Paquimé project and we became good friends. I collaborated with him in different ways, from supporting his investigative efforts and dealings with the authorities for the conservation of the archaeological zone and the protection of the sites against vandalism and sacking of which they have always been victims, in some cases due to ignorance and in others due to ambition. These have slowly destroyed the historic legacy of what is the oldest known social grouping in Chihuahua as well as the most important pre-Hispanic culture in northern Mexico and North America during the XIII and XIV centuries. Knowing more about the ancient inhabitants of Chihuahua, the land where I was born, filled me with pride and a sense of belonging to that land. Something that caused a strong impression on me was the pottery at the archaeological sites that although it had been abandoned and subject to the weather for more than 700 years, had not lost the intensity of its colors. Its unique designs called my attention because they contained information that had not been deciphered and that still holds the secrets of those people in each pot and each decorated piece found among the funerary offerings.

I read the material published about Paquimé, almost all the material was in English and there was little in Spanish. I concentrated on the pottery as the cornerstone to understand their cultural development through time and to help us conserve this legacy. I had the opportunity of drawing up the archaeological map of northwestern Chihuahua where we identified almost two thousand sites in a region that is presently occupied by approximately ten municipalities. One hundred and fifty kilometers from the Sierra Madre to the municipality of Villa Ahumada and the municipality of Madera to the border with the State of New Mexico in the U.S. some 200 km to the north. According to some researchers, this region was the seat of the Paquimé or Casas Grandes culture.

The great efforts made by Contreras did not receive support from the federal or state governments, much less from the municipalities. It is a constant that culture has the last priority in our officials’ and politicians’ plans. Contreras fell gravely ill in 1986 in Casas Grandes after several seasons of working there and died that same year in Mexico City. This called the attention to the northern region of the academic community, as well as that of the governments. Much like the medieval knight, “el Mío Cid”, he won his last battle after death. Paquimé appeared on Mexico’s cultural horizon and an unprecedented amount attention of the federation was given to the archaeological zone which provided more resources, more guards and more frequent working seasons sponsored by the Federal government. In this way, the archaeological investigation horizons in the whole state of Chihuahua became greater. As a result, a unit of the National School of Anthropology and History was established in Chihuahua City and the Paquimé culture began to be included in primary school textbooks.

Archaeologists from universities in the U.S., Canada and other countries came to Casas Grandes and I became good friends with Michael Whalen, Paul Minnis from the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma, Todd Pietzel from the University of Arizona, together, in 1985, they started annual projects and every year, they have brought students of all levels, BAs, MBAs and PhDs who have published a dozen books related to Paquimé in addition to more than a hundred scientific articles published in magazines that specialize in Arid-American archaeology. In fact, they have continuously, as a group and individually, kept studying the Paquimé culture following Di Peso’s and Contreras’ works with scientific exactitude. I have accompanied them to visit about 480 sites in the region, always specifically concerned with learning more about the pottery; although my specialty is not archaeology, I have learned much in these 27 years of working with them, some of their publications have been dedicated to me for which I am grateful and continue to participate in their work; their warehouse in Mexico is part of my house.

On our part, at the end of the century, at Casas Grandes we were fighting for our dream: to build an onsite museum at Paquimé which we finally achieved after nearly 10 years of negotiations. In 1998, the Museum of Northern Cultures and the Paquimé Culture was inaugurated after innumerable attempts; it was declared by UNESCO to be Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a unique culture with its own characteristics, in addition to the earthen architecture and the other unique aspects of the desert cultures. One of its most expressive manifestations is its pottery which has become Paquimé’s marker of identity.

In 1952, in Casas Grandes, Manuel Olivas began to produce low temperature ceramics decorated with the designs from the pieces found at the archaeological sites. His grandmother taught him how to find the clay deposits, how to prepare the clay and fire his pieces the way his family did to produce clay articles. This is how the new traditional Paquimé ceramics were born; after this, the ceramics appeared spontaneously in several communities in the region and the new potters exchanged the information they had. They sold their pieces as utilitarian and decorative objects, first to locals and later to tourists.

When Eduardo Contreras died, to honor his memory, I wrote a notebook titled: “Let’s Conserve Paquimé” to call the attention of the authorities and people who lived in the region to the fact that the archaeological sites needed to be protected because they were still being sacked. With the help of my students, we printed it at the “Francisco Villa” school. It had more than 50 illustrations and since in those days, INAH charged 400 pesos for the rights to each photo, we printed it on a mimeograph and instead of photos we illustrated it with some excellent drawings made by Gustavo Rubio. The first edition was 4000 copies which we distributed in the region and wherever we could. Later, in Colorado it was printed a second time, 2000 copies in both English and Spanish, the notebook practically became a guide to visit the archaeological zone. We only needed to complete it by adding photos to the drawings in spaces left for that purpose which made the visit to Paquimé more attractive.

At that time I was contacting persons who were beginning to work with ceramics and I remember that my first contacts were Andrés Villalba, Juan Quezada, Héctor Gallegos, Armando Rodríguez and a few others with whom I first began to work with clay. At the beginning of the nineties I began a new adventure in the arts by establishing the first formal workshop for traditional Paquimé ceramics in 1992. It was located in my house. We trained many people there and received support through temporary employment programs from the state government; there were also people who wanted to know about this new activity that provided for many families. Many of these persons continued with the ceramic art using as support the knowledge we had about the ancient ceramics of Paquimé. That was what I personally focused on because Mata Ortiz was evolving with contemporary designs and some of the artisans did not know much about our mother culture so I decided to focus my efforts on rescuing the ceramics with the ancient pieces and classical designs from the era of Paquimé’s splendor.

I contacted institutions in the United States and in many parts of Mexico to reinforce academic activities related to acquiring more knowledge about the ceramics of Paquimé.  In Colorado Springs, Colorado I received support to write more about the topic and I completed a large manuscript about the events that had occurred in Mata Ortiz entitled “Mata Ortiz, Town of Potters, Ceramics of Northwest Chihuahua”. Due to its large size I was unable to publish it. I continued with exchange programs with institutions in the state of Chihuahua, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma in the United States; we exchanged experiences with well-known ceramists such as Gregory Wood who is an archaeo-ceramist who specializes in Anazasi ceramics from northern New Mexico and southern Colorado; we have held workshops on the production of ancient Anazasi and Paquimé ceramics for archaeologists through institutions like the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado and also soon with the Amerind Foundation of Dragoon Arizona, to hold new discussions on the ceramics of Paquimé during the last three decades with the participation of Mexican archaeologists and anthropologists.

In 2008 I summarized my previous manuscript into “The new Paquimé Ceramics” which I printed after trying, in vain, to get support from the government or another institution. The first edition of 2000 copies sold out and in 2009, the second edition was printed and also sold out. I hope to print a third edition in English to go on a book tour in the United States. The book sparked interest because it was written by a Mexican born in Casas Grandes who is also a ceramist which was a difference when compared to foreign publications.

I made a tour of institutions in Chihuahua, Jalisco, Mexico City, Baja California and Guanajuato; I visited universities, museums, public and private institutions to present the book, organize workshops, exhibitions, giving conferences to promote Paquimé and the Casas Grandes ceramics, especially the ones produced in J. Mata Ortiz. We sent some pieces to Europe on a traveling exhibition that began in Norway and ended in Finland.

Seventeen years ago, with the support of FONART and the state government, we organized the first Ceramic contest for the region of Paquimé that is ongoing and gives recognition to local talent and helps to support them with the sale of their pieces. There are a significant number of buyers from the United States which makes the event successful from a financial perspective and is a good pretext to get together with the locals. The name of the event was changed to Ceramic Contest of Mata Ortiz. We have supported the national ceramic contests of Talquepaque and Tonala. We encourage artisans and artists to participate with excellent results. Also, we recently promoted collective exhibitions like the Ollas Pintas at the Casa Chihuahua Museum where 20 artists participated. A year ago we also organized the 2012 Ceramist Meeting in Chihuahua City with the participation of ceramists from Guadalajara, Mexico City, Tijuana; Madrid, Spain; Chihuahua, Houston Texas and Colorado U.S.A. The next meeting is scheduled for May 2014 in Casas Grandes, Chihuahua with a much greater number of national participants.

In general, the actions of this writer may be summarized as having given support, promoting and presenting information about the Paquimé culture through its ceramics. All my efforts during these 22 years have been to get to know the material, the designs, processes and everything related to the ancient ceramics. I’ve also worked with the more modern interpretations of the art and supported new ceramists and the extraordinary contributions made by J. Mata Ortiz without forgetting that the ancient ceramists’ iconography is the way of keeping that cultural heritage alive and that it’s necessary to get to know it better. We have also tried to transmit knowledge of our mother culture to young people and have contributed to the conservation of the archaeological sites and we have registered whenever possible the knowledge we’ve acquired to share it with new generations. We have also organized activities oriented towards the academic considerations of the topic with the participation of institutions of higher learning and cultural organizations. One of our pending projects is the creation of a School of Ceramics where initially, a bachelor’s degree would be offered so that ceramists could be recognized formally for their contributions to culture and art and so that they may improve their standard of living.

It’s been a lengthy story but it finally ends. “Un abrazo”

Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, November 27, 2013

 

 

 

MATA ORTIZ POTTERY TRADITION

The old history about the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition has been discarded. Some of the early pioneer potters have passed away and their adult children feel more free to share the more authentic histories. This is how history evolves.

There is an unauthentic tale by Spencer MacCallum that pottery making was re-discovered in Mata Ortiz by one man who had never seen a potter at work. That is a myth. That is not true. Mr. MacCallum needs to separate himself from this falsehood. In order to be truthful, these are steps that he can complete:

1. He needs to acknowledge that he made a purposely false narrative about the history of the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition. Mr. MacCallum has allowed an illegitimate narrative to continue.

2. MacCallum needs to state publicly that there were many pioneers of Mata Ortiz pottery. In addition, he needs to publicly disclose that several people in Mata Ortiz and Nuevo Casas Grandes were working together in the beginning years.

3. He needs to immediately state that he is not a professional anthropologist.

“A time comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

We acknowledge that MacCallum has done some helpful things regarding the town of Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. However, for more than forty years he has marginalized, omitted and failed to tell the truth about many families in Mata Ortiz.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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!