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 (Spencer MacCallum) 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.

5 thoughts on “MATA ORTIZ: OPEN LETTER”

  1. I missed your blog. Glad to see it back. Seems that lately there’s lots of new info surfacing. I’ve read Hills’s articles in Journal of Southwest and talked to some of the Mexican potters. These histories from the Mexican people seem consistent and make a lot of sense. It’s their history after all, which I guess is the point.

  2. Well said. It’s not for nothin’ they call it HIStory. I’ve heard that now Diego Valles too is shedding light on the under-acknowledged potters. Equality, justice and free speech, he calls it. It’s a story long overdue. I urge those of you who are on Facebook to contact him and check out his posts, and the local responses to it.

  3. I also missed your blog and hope you can keep it up better. I enjoyed your open letter. Another potter, Chela Ortiz, speaks about this topic too. There’s so much untapped information out there! I’m looking forward to the rest of the story. Did any of the rest of you read Hills’ articles in the U of A’s Southwest Journal? Fascinating. Care to comment?

  4. Our open letter was printed in The El Paso Times Letters to the Editor on May 1. Here is a telling response also printed in El Paso Times Letters to the Editor (CAPS ADDED):

    On May 5, the Ohtli (pathfinder) award will be presented by the Mexican consul-general to Spencer MacCallum, an American who for four decades has promoted the work of the potters of the tiny village of Mata Ortiz near the World Heritage Site of Paquime in Northern Chihuahua.
    Lucky for me, I was introduced to the potters and Spencer in 1997 by El Paso art teacher Sandi Casillas, who took me there for the first time.
    It touched my heart to witness Juan Quezada and an entire village making beautiful pots with clay and pigments from the hills around them. The visit encouraged me to return again and again, and to visit demonstrations in the United States — even hosting one at my gallery.
    SPENCER WAS ALWAYS THERE INFORMING and encouraging — even INVESTING IN SMALL ADOBES SO THAT VISITORS TO THE REGION WOULD HAVE A PLACE TO STAY. IN THE REGION SO THAT VISITORS WOULD HAVE A PLACE TO STAY.
    A recent letter complained of Spencer’s “male Anglo-centric legend” of Mata Ortiz that ignores vital history.
    AS WITH ANY GREAT STORY, SPENCER’S EXPERIENCE MAY BE INCOMPLETE, but I’m grateful it was enough to help introduce a person like me, leading me on a journey of a lifetime.
    Adair Margo Upper Valley

    The above writer’s view that there would have been nowhere to stay in the region other than American-owned lodging is part of the Anglo-centric myth that has left select Mexican business owners and artisans, in particular women, out of regional economic growth. As for the host’s hovering, that too is part of a pattern of proprietary seclusion and exclusion in an effort to keep what some Mexicans have called a “bigoted” false myth alive. I would encourage visitors to Mata Ortiz to stay with the delightful hostess Marta Veloz in Casa de Marta in central Mata Ortiz. She has the best food, firmest mattresses and freshest bathrooms in town. A local, she too has complained of losing business to foreign enterprises. I’d further encourage visitors to speak with master potter, Diego Valles, about the complete inclusive history of the village. Additionally, travelers have complained about feeling “trapped in a bubble” during American-led tours. For an authentic experience that keeps well-earned pesos in Mexico, The Pink Store in Palomas and The Pink Store North in Silver City can help arrange tours that fairly share tourist dollars among Mexican businesses and artists in the region.
    For additional reading see The University of Arizona Journal of the Southwest articles by James Hills. See also writings and presentations by contemporary archaeologist Fabiola Silva and Facebook entries by award winning Mata Ortiz artist Diego Valles.
    Nancy Andrews

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