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JUAN QUEZADA & THE TRADITION OF MATA ORTIZ POTTERY

RECLAIMING TECHNIQUES OF THE MOGOLLON CULTURE



Mata Ortiz Vessel

Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua Mexico

Photo by Jennifer Bjarnason December 2018


The story of Juan Quezada is as fascinating as it is reminiscent of so many legends whose accomplishments were against all odds.  Born on May 6, 1940 in Tutuaco, Chihuahua, Juan Quezada's family relocated to a tiny village that had shrunk to only three blocks following the Mexican Revolution.  That village was called Mata Ortiz.

 

As a child, Juan was engrossed by creative activities.  From sculpting anything he could shape with his hands, to painting any surface he could find, his artistic passion was prolific enough that his mother would let him paint the walls of their home, so long as he later washed it off.  At one point, someone in the local government took note and offered him sponsorship to attend art school. Having never been a fan of school, Juan declined the offer - a decision he never regretted.  

 

As a teenager, Juan left school to assist his family.  He collected firewood, worked for the railroad, and harvested maguey cactus.  While he was fulfilling these tasks, he often stumbled upon caches of pre-Hispanic pots and pottery fragments - and due to his childhood fixation on sculpting and painting, his collection grew along with his need to repatriate this lost art form. 



If you blink, you will miss it

Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua Mexico

Photo by Jennifer Bjarnason December 2018


With no formal ceramics experience, and no experts to consult with, Juan spent several years of his life experimenting with various materials, in a desperate attempt to recreate the pots that were littered throughout the lands where he lived.  Juan learned that adding sand to clay as a temper prevented it from cracking.  By studying the ancient pots, he eventually realized that the pots were made using the well known coil technique.  His next experiment was to color the clay using natural materials - which turned out to be rust for red, black for magnesium, and natural clay for blond pieces.  He also figured out that human hair made the best tip for paint-brushes, as opposed to using animal hair or the fibre of maguey cactus.  Today, all of the techniques employed by modern ceramicists of the Mogollon style are thanks to the many experiments and ingenuity of Juan Quezada. 



Mata Ortiz Pottery

Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua Mexico

Photo by Jennifer Bjarnason December 2018


When Juan Quezada first went to Casas Grandes to sell his first pottery pieces, nobody was interested.  He decided to take a trip to the New Mexico border town of Palomas where a shop keeper loved his pots enough to purchase everything he had.  Juan began working with a friend, who would deliver the pots - but his career as a ceramicist had only just begun.  In 1976, anthropologist Spencer MacCallum visited Deming, New Mexico and stumbled across one of Quezada's pots.  As the store-keeper didn't know who had made the pot, it sent MacCallum on a mission to hunt down more of these pots, eventually leading him to Mata Ortiz, much to the surprise of Juan Quezada.

 

Over the next 8 years, MacCallum's philanthropic support of Quezada's career resulted in his mastery of reproduction, as well as the invention of modern techniques and influences.  MacCallum worked tirelessly to promote Quezada to museum curators and gallery owners until a collection known as Juan Quezada and the New Tradition was exhibited across Arizona, New Mexico and California in 1970 and 1980.  This exhibit was donated to the San Diego Museum of Man in 1997 - and remains a complete collection. 



Gloria Hernandez painting a pot

Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua Mexico

Photo by Jennifer Bjarnason December 2018


Today, Juan Quezada's pieces sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars in the US market.  His determination has sparked an entire movement of art that is recognized internationally as the Mata Ortiz art movement - though the collection of such pieces remains concentrated in the Southwestern United States.  I was elated to visit his home and gallery, though unfortunately he was not home nor were any of his pieces available for purchase.  I would have been surprised to find any pieces available, especially given my budget.  That said - I truly look forward to returning to Mata Ortiz and further exploring and collecting this incredible art form.



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