Mata Ortiz pottery is one of the most collectable ceramic arts in Mexico, and also one of the most beautiful. But what do we know about how Mata Ortiz pottery is made and its history?
The History of Mata Ortiz Pottery
Widespread trade of Mata Ortiz pottery began with a man named Juan Quezada Celado who introduced a unique technique and style based on the ancient ceramic remains excavated at the archeological site of Paquime, located in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The name of his pottery took the name of the town where he lived and worked: Mata Ortiz.
Where is Mata Ortiz pottery made?
Like champagne is from the region of Champagne in France and authentic tequila is made in and around the Mexican town of Tequila, Mata Ortiz pottery is expertly crafted in the town known as Mata Ortiz, providing locals with a decent and pleasant living. About two thirds of the population living in Mata Ortiz is involved in ceramic making of some sort. Some 300 are involved directly in the artistic production while others work indirectly, either by providing fuel for the kilns or by offering accommodations for guests, traders and tourists.
The collectable ceramic artworks and pots are handmade in precarious workrooms which are fashioned within the homes of the town’s inhabitants. Artists’ bedrooms serve as art studios, where all the equipment and materials used are laid out ready. A typical workroom will have a simple table with tools like a hacksaw blade, butter knife, spoons and paint brushes made from children’s hair just a few strands connected to a small stick.
The traditional Paquime techniques of shaping the clay are still followed by Mata Ortiz potters, although each arts has his or her own own style in making the pots. Clays of different colors are utilized based on the variation of Quezada’s single-coil method. The paints used in the designs are based on clay or manganese, which are both abundant in the area.
The whole process involved in creating Mata Ortiz pottery is artistically carried out from start to finish, totally hand made. Rather than using a wheel throwing methods, the pots are made using the pinching method whereby a ball of clay is first pinched into a round flat shape, then pressed into a bowl shape. More clay is then added to the walls as per each design, including a distinctive ridge.
Afterwards,the walls are smoothed and thinned by scraping using a hacksaw blade. If another lip is needed, a coil will be added. The pot will then be dried before being sanded smooth using a deer bone or a common stone. To serve as a lubricant, a little vegetable oil is also used.
The Final Stages
Before the final heating process, the Mata Ortiz pottery will be painted according to the many intricate designs, which tend to feature geometric shapes and animals in black, terracotta and cream. After painting, the Mata Ortiz pottery pieces are fired in an open ground or in pit ovens. Depending on the size of each peice, larger pots are heated individually, while three or more can be joined together and fired simultaneously.