1976, Anthropologist Spencer MacCallum
discovered three intriguing handmade
ceramic pots in a secondhand store in
New Mexico. While they resembled ancient
pots of the region, they were actually
new. After much investigation, Spencer
discovered the pots, or
"ollas", had been made in the
small Mexican village of Mata Ortiz, in
the mountains of the state of Chihuahua,
by Juan Quezada. Juan had recreated the
ancient pottery making techniques of the
Paquime Indians with only shards of the
excavated pottery to go by.
Spencer's discovery and subsequent meeting with
Juan Quezada set off a chain of events, often referred to as
"The Miracle of Mata Ortiz." Not only has Juan
continued to produce and market pots of high quality, he has
taught others in the village to do the same.
Nearly 400 of the 2,000 inhabitants of Mata
Ortiz are now producing pottery, slowly transforming the
community from one of impoverishment to one of economic
stability. Every stage of production of the pottery is done completely
by hand, and each one-of-a-kind piece is purchased directly from the potter. Raw clay and pigment for the pots and
paints are collected from the rich deposits found in surrounding
hills and valleys. The potter's hand's form the pots, the hair
of children is used to make the paint brushes, and the firing is
done in the back yard with wood and cow dung as the fuel.
Over the years, experimentation, refinement, and
creativity have taken place at all stages of production.
Consequently, the potters are more skilled and innovative than
ever, earning Mata Ortiz the reputation of a major
pottery-producing center, and this new art forms the status of
one of the finest of it's kind.