Paquime or Casas Grandes was an ancient civilization that existed from 1130 AD to 1450 AD. It was home to the Mongollon people who created the pottery that Mata Ortiz is based on.
The Casas Grandes archaeological site is located in Northern Mexico in the state of Chihuahua. This is where the man credited with reviving the lost pottery of Paquime, Jose Quezada Celado, is from.
Not much is known about the original methods the Mongollon used to create their pottery—that is until Juan Quezada began experimenting at his home in a village called Mata Ortiz.
Juan Quezada was a farmer who often collected firewood near the remains of Paquime. He noticed bits and pieces of clay around the site and eventually had become curious enough to start recreating the pieces he found. (Source: “The Ceramics of Mata Ortiz” PDF; Sherds: The newsletter of the Museum of the Red River; Idabel OK: Museum of the Red River, January–March 2010, retrieved June 16, 2012.) He gathered clay from the many deposits in his area and officially began experimenting in the early 1960s.
That is where everything began. By the early 1970s, Quezada had officially found a way to recreate the pottery. He started out by giving his creations to family, friends, and fellow villagers. During the mid-1970s, he was gaining commercial traction in the United States by selling to smaller stores in the Southwest.
Enter Spencer MacCallum, a man who had become Quezada’s mentor and agent. He was responsible for bringing Mata Ortiz pottery to the mainstream by helping Quezada get into various museums and galleries. MacCallum had found Quezada while at a pottery store in New Mexico. There, he saw some of the early Mata Ortiz pottery and decided to find the person who had created it.
MacCallum set off to Northern Mexico without any information on the craftsman. No names, no leads…only pictures of the pottery he saw. (Source: Donnelly, Karen (April 2000). “The art of innovation: Mexico Mata Ortiz pottery”. The World and I. 15 (4): 112–117.)
He found Quezada by asking around northern Mexico until he was led to the Mata Ortiz village. Once there, he proposed to give Quezada financial backing and connections in exchange for his continued work. He helped Quezada get into many prestigious museums and galleries, including his first one: Arizona State Museum. (Source: Donnelly, Karen (April 2000). “The art of innovation: Mexico Mata Ortiz pottery” The World and I. 15 (4): 112–117.)
Juan Quezada Celado’s craftsmanship was finally recognized for its brilliance. He had taught friends and family until finally a good portion of his village was creating the pottery. It was rightfully named Mata Ortiz and it had brought the village out of poverty.
Today, Mata Ortiz pottery is world renowned. Jose Quezada Celado revived a lost art and taught it to his village to bring it out of poverty.
Want to know how it’s made? Here is a quick video showing the basic methods of making Mata Ortiz pottery.