Ceramic Stimulus: How Pottery Changed One Rural Town

Hector Gallegos Jr., a Mata Ortiz potter, adds some sgraffito detail to a vase.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that, after having working in this business for nearly seven years, and having been an aspiring potter for many years before that, I did not know the Mata Ortiz story. I had heard of Mata Ortiz and Juan Quezada, and had seen images of the work, but until this week, I didn’t know the whole story.


But I finally got around to watching the Mata Ortiz Pottery Phenomenon, and I must say, it was a truly fascinating film. Until now, I had assumed that Mata Ortiz pottery was produced by traditional potters using age old techniques particular to that region, which had been passed down for hundreds and hundreds of years. But the Mata Ortiz pottery tradition was all started about 40 years ago by one self-taught man – Quezada – and it brought a dying town back to life. So today, I thought I would share a little taste of this compelling story. With the news we hear daily about the various economic crises around the world, I figured we could all use a happy story! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


[flash /movie/mataortiz.flv mode=0 f={image=/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/mataortiz_still.jpg}]

Having trouble watching the video?

Please see our Video FAQ to troubleshoot.

This clip was excerpted from the documentary film
The Mata Ortiz Pottery Phenomenon,
which is available in the Ceramic Arts Daily Bookstore.

Order online and get free shipping!
(free shipping applies to U.S. orders only)

  • Ceramic Artist O.

    i loved the video – i have spent time down in mata ortiz studying with jorge quintana and frequently have him and some of his friends come up to visit us in arizona. thanks for putting the story out there – i too am amazed at the number of potters i come across who don’t know that incredible story.

  • I teach my high students about the Mata Ortiz potters every semester. I have 2 videos and 2 books that I use. I am also fortunate enough to coordinate with a colleague in Phoenix who brings some of the artists to his classroom twice a year. It is wonderful to have them demo their techniques to my students. It gives my students a much greater appreciation for the time, energy, craftsmanship and talent that Mata Ortiz potters put into the creation of all of their pieces.

  • Keith M.

    I visited Juan and his brother Nicolas in the early 90’s. I hichted in on the roof of a stock truck, similar to the one with the horse in the video, except with a bull in the back. The brothers were very welcome to me as a total stranger: I was able observe and even invited to stay and eat. I watched coils rolled with eficency, walls compressed and scraped to a uniform 3/16″, and learned slip designs could be applied and burnish with extreme percision. Jaun’s couriosity and passion for the craft, as well as his belief in his family and community, is something I try to live through my work as an artist and educator. Thanks for sharing this clip and jarring a few buried memories.

  • Nancy S.

    Thank you again for keeping me connected to all the wonderful possiblities of ceramic art. It’s so amazing to see the power of pottery making on the lives of so many civilizations. This story is a reminder that we are blessed by this unspoken communication with the passed and the future.

  • Gulzar A.

    I love watching videos,it inspires me.right now I am not practising because I am out of country but believe me I am literally craving to do pottery, hopefully will start soon again.
    I’ed love to watch more work of yours it is really interesting the way you put the whole thing.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Claudia R.

    me parece increible felicitationes para la gente de esa ciudad WELL DONE

  • Jon Erik C.

    Extremely worthwhile and truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

  • Georgia L.

    I get so much enjoyment watching the videos. Makes me want to try everything I see. However, the best thing I get out of them is insperation, just to keep working!
    I did also get inspired years ago from taking a pottery class on the outscurts if the Taos Pueblo, with Sharon Dryflower Reyna.
    I have also taken a class form James Watkins and others.

    Once I took pottery in collage, I never turned back, though I ended up teaching art for 30 years, clay is my passion to this day. Takeing to pieces to the Corpus Christi Art Center tomorrow to enter in to a show.
    Wish me luck!

  • Carolyn L.

    Thank you for posting this video at a time when we are all so hungry for good news. Juan Quezada is a inspiring man following his heart and passion. It’s good to know that art can make changes for the better.

  • Whitney E.

    What a great way to revitalize a town! Good for him.

  • Di T.

    And hail to the Juan Quezada, a true entrepreneur who through his vision and persistence has effectively revived his ancestral ceramic traditions, generated income to provide economic and social cohesion for himself and his village.
    The power of an individual is truly amazing . Blessings to Juan and CAD for sharing .

  • Deann K.

    Last August I was lucky enough to attend a New Mexico Potter’s and Clay Artist workshop taught by Pabla Quezada, Lydia’s daughter and Juan’s niece. It was a fabulous learning experience and that is where I first heard the amazing story of the Mata Ortiz potters.

  • Tracy W.

    Such wonderful work. Great story. With 400 other potters in such a small, rural village Where do they sell their work??? are they able to get a good price for it.

  • Roger D.

    This was a great film and very inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  • Virginia C.


  • Thank you for posting this brilliant video! What a testament to the history of pottery! The tenacious artistic spirit – may it never fade! I swear, potters are the most inventive people I have ever met!

  • Margaret S.

    What a beautiful story !

  • Resa W.

    I had the great pleasure of watching Juan Quezada create one of his pots from start to finish at the Alabama Clay Conference 2010. Absolutly beautiful. What an amazing man, to be able to pick up a few shards of clay and through observation and persistance create his own clay and glazes from the earth around him, develop a burnishing technique and then develop a way to fire the pots without damaging them. Quite a feat – very inspirational.
    There are some additional videos on youtube, this one was from the Alabama Clay Conference posting:

  • Clara E.

    That was amazing. I’ll definitely put a trip to Mata Ortiz on my bucket list. Thank you so very much.

    Clara Emma

  • Marina M.

    Que lindas vasijas hacen!!!! Gracias por mostrar el video!!!

  • Christine P.

    You finally got me! I’ve ordered the video.
    Very inspiring, but for my computer, the vid quality was too choppy, and I wanted to see it all!
    I’m so looking forward to vid delivery.
    Thank you so much for these vids. I look forward to Fridays for them.

  • I should be outside glazing and loading my kiln for a show starting next week, but instead I prolonged my lunch break to watch this most amazing and satisfying video. My only regret is that I can’t come up with better words of praise than those which were more beautifully expressed by all the other viewers just listed above my own words. — I saw many examples of Mata Ortiz work in my two visits out to the 4 corners region in 2005 and 2008 and so many fine Hopi and Navajo pots, and many other pieces from a few Pueblos I got to visit, along with countless pieces and shards of that wonderful Anasazi work. I am eager for my next visit if and when the kiln gods bestow their much needed assistance to me and my work (OK, my checkbook). — you guys at Ceramic Arts Daily are a blessing in my never ending quest for good times in the mud. Thanks, Greg Seigel (www.potbaker.com)

  • Gillian M.

    We have been watching the Mata Ortiz pottery evolve over the last couple of decades and on a recent trip to Casas Grandes we were blown away by the quality, detail and variety of work coming out of that village now.
    Next time we’ll actually get to Mata Ortiz..
    The brushes are hand-made and really are often just a few strands of human hair. I find it hard to believe how delicate and light the pots are and I love that there are no rules on what images appear on the work, sometimes none at all, just amazing burnishing.

  • Dixie N.

    I loved it, the story and history! It touches the beating heart of all potters. The people’s inspiration, curiosity, persistence are generated by the soul’s innate craving for beauty. When the creative gift is well done, livelihood is provided by the product.

  • Absolutely beautiful work!!!

    Very inspiring for sure!

    While I do not have any family history with mexican style pottery I have had a great interest in its designs and such, it is incredible!

    I would too be very interested in hearing what sort of paints / glazes they use that would allow such fine detail but also what brushes they use..

  • Debra H.

    Thank you for sharing this video. I had the chance to visit Mata Ortiz 2 years ago and I purchased some pots. Thay are simply beautiful. One of the pots is by Efren Quezada, the other by Ismael Loya. Does anyone know who these 2 people are? I cannot find any information on them. someone told me that Efren is Juan’s youngest son? Thanks for any info you can give me,

  • Christine D.

    I knew about Mata Ortiz—would love to go there. At the end he said that it was the spirit of competition that created new forms & ideas–but I would say it’s the inspiration of seeing and working with other artists.

  • Pat S.

    this proves that civialization comes from the arts and particularly pottery. without art we are lost.

  • Inspiring. Their work is as unique and beautiful as their story.

  • To say that what Mata Ortiz has accomplished is amazing is just simply such an understatement. The craftsmanship and beauty that they’ve bring to their work as a community is inspiring.

  • Sharon H.

    I just visited Mata Ortiz 2 weeks ago and actually met Spencer McCallum and his wife. Very inspiring!!

    Sharon Heilman

  • Andrea L.

    What a beautiful and inspiring story, not just for the ceramic community. A story of 1 mans passion to change his futur, to choose a different path then what had been shown to him. A story of how beauty and art can change the world. Every great civilization is known to us today through their art….

  • Regina E.

    This was a wonderful story. Some of the detail is incredible. My eyes would not last.
    What are the tools they’re using for the fine lines?
    Just fascinating and heart warming.

  • Joan K.

    Was able to meet and visit with some of these potters in Tucson early this year and their work is so very beautiful in person. Some of the brushes they use to paint on the oxides are as fine as 2 baby hairs. The burnished black ware is astonishing. Thanks for sharing, although the video quality was not nearly fine enough to properly view the work. I treasure the pieces I have and the potters certainly are progressing into lovely abstract forms and finish patterns while keeping some of that ancient flavor to the work. Very nice

  • Elsa M.

    This was fabulous. I was totally taken in by the story and the evolution of the town.

Enter Your Log In Credentials
This setting should only be used on your home or work computer.

Larger version of the image
Send this to a friend