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.