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!