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Friday, Mar 24
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
4:00 PM 24th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival
5:00 PM Women's International Film Festival San Diego
6:00 PM Hawaiian Music With Waipuna
6:00 PM Lommok Radio's 1st Anniversary Celebration
6:30 PM Taste Of Opera The Curious Fork Cooking Class: 'La Traviata'
7:00 PM A Night of Classical Iranian Music
8:00 PM Stage: The Dresser
Saturday, Mar 25
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
9:00 AM Chamorro Cultural Festival
10:00 AM Women's International Film Festival San Diego
11:00 AM San Diego Sings! Festival 2017
11:00 AM Tequila & Taco Music Festival
11:00 AM Japanese Brush Painting Art Exhibition
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
1:00 PM Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' & 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
1:00 PM Nowruz, the Persian New Year Celebration
3:00 PM Miso Making Workshop
7:00 PM Music and Dance: Noche Cubana
8:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
8:00 PM Stage: The Dresser
Sunday, Mar 26
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
9:00 AM Women's International Film Festival San Diego
11:00 AM House of Iran: Persian New Year Celebration
11:00 AM Japanese Brush Painting Art Exhibition
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
12:00 PM 24th Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival
1:00 PM Brazilian Carnaval
2:00 PM Muslim Ban Town Hall
2:00 PM Stage: The Dresser
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Monday, Mar 27
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
Tuesday, Mar 28
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
7:30 PM Talk: Asian Pacific Islander Americans and the Formation of San Diego
Wednesday, Mar 29
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
6:00 PM Talk: The Philippines Under President Duterte
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Thursday, Mar 30
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
9:00 AM Talk: Jack Bowsher
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
7:30 PM Book Talk on Umberto Saba's "Ernesto"
8:00 PM Music: Tinariwen
8:00 PM La Jolla Music Society Presents Danish National Symphony Orchestra
8:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Friday, Mar 31
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
7:30 PM Stage: Halo-Halo
7:30 PM Stage: South of the 8
8:00 PM Stage: The Dresser
8:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Saturday, Apr 1
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
9:00 AM Scottish Tartan Day
11:00 AM Latin American Art Festival
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
2:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
2:00 PM Stage: Halo-Halo
2:30 PM Stage: South of the 8
7:30 PM Stage: Halo-Halo
7:30 PM Stage: South of the 8
8:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Sunday, Apr 2
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
11:00 AM Latin American Art Festival
1:00 PM 4th Annual Mariachi Festival
2:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
2:00 PM Stage: The Dresser
2:00 PM Stage: Halo-Halo
3:00 PM Indian Music and Dance Festival
6:00 PM Music: Bossa Brazil
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Monday, Apr 3
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
11:00 AM Art Exhibit: Street Photography around the World
7:00 PM Indian Music and Dance Festival
Tuesday, Apr 4
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
6:30 PM Indian Music and Dance Festival
7:00 PM Worldview Project International Book Club
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Wednesday, Apr 5
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
6:30 PM Indian Music and Dance Festival
7:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
Thursday, Apr 6
All Day Ongoing and Extended Events
6:30 PM Indian Music and Dance Festival
7:30 PM Stage: Halo-Halo
8:00 PM Stage: Red Velvet
The Amazing Mata Ortiz
In the last 30 years a miraculous rise of a new and exciting style of decorative pottery has occurred in the small town of Mata Ortiz, in Chihuahua, Mexico. Fascinated by the 600 year-old "Paquime" pottery shards he found while collecting firewood, Juan Quezada embarked on a life-long quest to create a new and boldly unique pottery style that paid respect to the past but soared to new heights in technique, inventivness and artistry. Now one out of every four people in Mata Ortiz is involved in making some of the most exquisite pottery to be found anywhere.

By Tom Johnston-O'Neill

The Clay Revolution

Mata Ortiz
As unassuming as it gets - The town of Mata Ortiz
A two day's drive southeast of San Diego lies the remarkable town of Mata Ortiz, Mexico. Thirty years ago the people of Mata Ortiz were poor and life was by all accounts hard. In former times many townspeople were employed by the lumber industry or the railroad. When the lumber industry hit hard times in the 1960s there was no longer any reason for trains to come to Mata Ortiz, and most people not only lost their jobs but had few, if any, opportunities to find any local employment at all. Soon many of the areas surrounding the town were abandoned entirely.

In stark contrast to the hard times of a few short decades ago, Mata Ortiz is now bustling with industrious creativity, and employment and incomes have soared. How did this remarkable transformation occur? The revival of Mata Ortiz is entirely due to the birth of a new and vibrant tradition in ceramic art. The development of cultural practices and traditions is often a long slow process that spans decades, centuries and even millennia. Indeed, the very notion of "tradition" evokes a sense of a long expanse of time. In rare instances, however, the process is greatly accelerated by the dedicated efforts of a small group of people or even a single individual. When change happens this quickly, it is often referred to as a revolution. Revolutions can be political, economic, agricultural, technological, social, cultural or artistic, or some combination. History tells us that not all revolutions are an improvement on life, but sometimes revolutions can truly revitalize communities. This is what happened in Mata Ortiz in the 1970s, when a dramatic artistic and economic revolution occurred, sparked by the efforts of a fantastically ingenious and superlatively talented ceramic artist named Juan Quezada.

The Paquime Artistic Progenitors

Paquime
Remnants of the City of Paquime
Although "The Miracle of Mata Ortiz" originated in the 1970s, the seeds for this revolution were planted over 600 years ago by the former inhabitants of the area, the Paquime. The Paquime were a people who belonged to the great Southwestern Pueblo culture. Paquime economic and artistic influence spread throughout the Southwest in the 13th and 14th centuries.

When Juan Quezada was a boy, and later as a teenager, he helped his family by collecting firewood from the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountains. On his daily travels Juan would often fit bits of ancient pottery lying on the ground or poking up through the soil. Juan became fascinated by the illustrations and geometric designs on the pieces. The pieces of pots belonged to the long extinct Pueblo society of the Paquime, which rose to it's zenith in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The center of the Paquime society was located in the city of Paquime, whose ruins lie near the present day city of Nueva Casas Grande--only a few kilometers from the town of Mata Ortiz. Paquime was a planned community of pueblo apartments, plazas, courtyards, storage buildings, artisan studios, ceremonial spaces, turkey and macaw nesting boxes, a graveyard and a very sophisticated water well, catchment and drainage system. At its height Paquime had more than 2000 residents, ironically the same population as present-day Mata Ortiz. The city of Paquime encompassed nearly 90 acres and some of its buildings were seven stories tall. Dramatic socio-cultural changes are apparently not new for this part of the world; archeological evidence suggest that the city of Paquime was built in only a few years time. It became a major trade entrepot for goods traded between North and Meso-America. Not all economic activity was entirely trade-based, however, and the city also developed its own style of pottery. Paquime potters created ceramic effigies and pottery that were decorated with geometric designs and stylized depictions of people, macaws, owls, snakes, badgers, fish, lizards and mountain sheep. Eventually, Paquime styled pottery was being made throughout what is now northwestern Mexico, western Texas and southern New Mexico and Arizona. For reasons yet unknown, just prior to the Spanish invasion the city was sacked and burned and never rebuilt. But pieces remained, and some of those pieces, in the form of broken shards of pottery, came to the attention of Juan Quezada of Mata Ortiz.

The Genius of Juan Quezada

Juan Quezada
Juan Quezada in 2003 Lecturing on Clay Preparation
Even as a child Quezada had a strong artistic temperament. As a boy he enjoyed drawing, covering his school notebooks with doodles and drawing on the walls of his bedroom. But the Paquime pottery pieces he found became his muse, and he set off on an earnest artistic quest to figure out how he himself could make such enchanting and beautiful creations out of clay. Lacking any knowledge of ceramics and having no one that could teach him, Quezada began experimenting with clay, trying to emulate the designs on the pot shards he had found, finding ways to harden his creations with modest homemade kilns. After years of experimentation he perfected his own techniques, methods and design. As works of art, his pots achieved a unparalleled vibrancy, expressiveness, technical perfection and level of detail. He shared his knowledge and skill with his family and by the 1970s Quezada and a handful of his relatives were making a steady stream of pots and selling them through local traders. Juan and his family were able to make a reasonable living through this enterprise, but nothing like what was to come.

It came to be that three of Juan Quezada's exquisite pots ended up on a shelf in Bob's Swap Shop in Deming, New Mexico, where they were "discovered" by a young entrepreneurially inclined man by the name of Spencer McCallum, who had an interest in Southwestern pottery and a background in anthropology. These pots were unlike any others that McCallum had encountered and, more than a bit intrigued, he set out to find their maker. After a few days of investigation and travel McCallum found Juan Quezada at his home in Mata Ortiz. Amazed by the artistry of Juan's pots (and no doubt their market potential!) Spencer McCallum began enthusiastically promoting Juan and his family's pottery, organizing shows, exhibitions and demonstrations throughout the Southwestern US and beyond.

Rather than jealously safeguarding his self-discovered and inventive techniques and methods, Quezada taught his neighbors how to make pottery and today nearly everyone in Mata Ortiz and the surrounding areas is involved in the making and selling of pottery. In only a few short years a highly refined and sophisticated artistic tradition was born. Entire families, men and women and even teenagers have taken up the craft. Juan has been invited to demonstrate and lecture on his pottery techniques far and wide, including making many visits to San Diego's Museum of Man, where some of his pieces are on permanent display.

Our Visit to Mata Ortiz

Marshall and Cathy
Marshall and Cathy Giesy,
our trusty and knowledgeable guides.
A few years ago, my wife, Shari, and I were fortunate enough to tour Mata Ortiz with a group of professional San Diego potters (and a few hardy school teachers!). We met up with our tour group at a hotel in Tucson. After a fitful night's sleep (the hotel was also housing the participants in the National Pop Warner football championships) we all boarded two mini-buses and headed off to Mexico. Marshall and Cathy Giesy of Fiesta Tours were our guides and during the day-long trip they regaled us with the rich history of Chihuahua, Mexico. The trip was not uneventful. Early in the day we were caught in a dust storm, a complete white-out, which forced us to come to an abrupt stop right in the middle of a four-lane highway, waiting for the storm to pass and praying that we wouldn't be rear-end by a tractor trailer. Night fell as we neared Mata Ortiz; unfortunately the local roads were diced up by the construction for a new paved road leading in to Mata Ortiz and we became thoroughly lost. No maps could help us, there was not a building or soul in sight and no one in our party had a GPS! However, the ever resourceful and observant Kathy knew a thing or two about astronomy. With Kathy's keen eye on the stars and lots of trial and error -- our progress impeded by numerous natural and human-made barriers -- we finally rolled into the diminutive town of Mata Ortiz.

Each of our days was spent walking around the five barrios of Mata Ortiz, visiting the homes of potters. The Giesys were able to guide us to the most accomplished and interesting artists, which was of great practical benefit because out of a population of 2,000, there are now over 400 ceramic artists in Mata Ortiz! The paved road to Mata Ortiz (now completed, no doubt) has resulted in greater numbers of visitors and a blossoming of guest homes to quarter them. When we visited the town we only met a handful of other tourists. Some Americans worry that the road will lead to cultural or artistic decline. I'm sure that changes have occurred, but our impression was that Juan Quezada and his fellow citizens are quite cognizant of the dangers and the benefits of increased tourism, and rather than being victimized they will instead use the increased flow of money and fame to their best advantage, individually and collectively. My own view is that the new road makes Mata Ortiz almost too easy to get to. Discovering such marvels as Mata Ortiz pottery in situ should involve at least some measure of travail!

A Family Affair

As noted above, pottery making is an extended family affair in Mata Ortiz. The book The Potters of Mata Ortiz contains complete genealogies of seven of the most well-known pottery families in Mata Ortiz. Although internal individual variation abounds, each family has become known for a particular range of designs and styles. Indeed, each of the five barrios of the town are considered to have styles that differ from each other. The connection between the barrio and style is so strong that some families have actually moved from one barrio to another because the potters in the family had more stylistic affinity to the barrio that they moved to. As the town of Mata Ortiz is very small, visiting all of the barrios is quite easily accomplished on foot, even if you are not in particularly good shape!
Juan Refining Clay
Juan Refining Clay

Juan Quezada in his Element

The high point of the tour was to visit with Juan Ortiz at his home where he lectured our group (which, again, included several professional potters) on the methods he uses to collect and process the clay and other materials that go into his pots. The processes he uses are quite highly developed and require at every stage an acute sense of detail and dedication. Clays are collected from numerous natural sources found around Mata Ortiz. The clays Juan uses come in a wide variety of colors: reds, browns, tans, yellows and black. Clays found in the foothills are very smooth but are fragile and the ones found nearer to stream beds are courser and stronger. Local sand and other ingredients are mixed with the clays to improve firing qualities and the plasticity and strength of the clay. Clays are mixed with water and then the mixture is screened one or more times to remove unwanted impurities and larger pieces of minerals or rocks.

One might imagine that with all the new-found fame and considerable fortune that Mr. Quezada has brought to Mata Ortiz he might tend toward arrogance or excessive pride, but instead one immediately senses the soul of a serious-minded, reflective, thoughtful, and virtuoso artist coupled with the spirit of a pioneering scientist who has made great use of careful observation and experimentation.

The Contours of an Emerging Tradition

Chihuahua Pot
Chihuahua Pot
by Fabiola Silveira and Carlos Villalba
A few years ago, my wife Shari and I were fortunate enough to tour Mata Ortiz with a group of professional San Diego potters (and a few hardy school teachers!). We met up with our tour group at a hotel in Tucson. After a fitful night's sleep (the hotel was also housing the participants in the National Pop Warner football championships) we all boarded two mini-buses and headed off to Mexico. Marshall and Cathy Giesy of Fiesta Tours were our guides and during the day-long trip they regaled us with the rich history of Chihuahua, Mexico. The trip was not uneventful. Early in the day we were caught in a dust storm, a complete white-out, which forced us to come to an abrupt stop right in the middle of a four-lane highway waiting for the storm to pass and praying that we wouldn't be rear-ended by a tractor trailer. Night fell as we neared Mata Ortiz; unfortunately, the local roads were diced up by the construction for a new paved road leading into Mata Ortiz and we became thoroughly lost. No maps could help us, there was not a building or soul in sight, and no one in our party had a GPS! However, the ever resourceful and observant Kathy knew a thing or two about astronomy. With Kathy's keen eye on the stars and lots of trial and error -- our progress impeded by numerous natural and human-made barriers -- we finally rolled into the diminutive town of Mata Ortiz.

Each of our days was spent walking around the five barrios of Mata Ortiz visiting the homes of potters. The Giesys were able to guide us to the most accomplished and interesting artists. This was of great practical benefit, because out of a population of 2,000, there are now over 400 ceramic artists in Mata Ortiz! The paved road to Mata Ortiz (now completed, no doubt) has resulted in greater numbers of people and a blossoming of guest homes to quarter them. When we visited the town we only met a handful of other tourists. Some Americans worry that the road will lead to cultural or artistic decline. No doubt changes have occurred, but our impression was that Juan Quezada and his fellow citizens are quite cognizant of the dangers and the benefits of increased tourism, and rather than being victimized they will instead use the increased flow of money and fame to their best advantage, individually and collectively. My own view is that the new road makes Mata Ortiz almost too easy to get to. Discovering such marvels as Mata Ortiz pottery in situ should involve at least some measure of travail!

Preparing the Clay

The Tortilla

Where it begins, the <i>tortilla.</i>
Where it begins, the tortilla.
Much of Southwestern pottery is based on coil-building techniques in which relatively thin ropes of clay are wound in circles to form the general shape of a pot. Many American school children learn the simple basics of this technique in elementary school crafts classes. As Juan Quezada was entirely self-taught, with only his powers of observation and determination to help him, it is not surprising that the techniques he developed often differ from the pottery techniques employed elsewhere in the Southwest.

In Mata Ortiz, the first step in forming a pot is to take a ball of clay and form it into a thick flat round which they call a tortilla. The round is then pressed into a plaster base with a rounded inside shape. In this respect the process is somewhat similar to press molding, which is used by many potters throughout the world today. In Mata Ortiz this is only the start of the process and this molding does not dictate the final shape of the pot. The tortilla is then worked by the potter's hands in a fashion that is somewhat similar to what one does to make a pinch-pot. The clay is pinched and pulled to make the thick clay form thinner. Simple tools, a favorite being a child's play tea-set saucer, are also used to scrape and smooth the clay into the desired shape. Another popular tool is a broken off section of a hacksaw blade; the serrated side is used for removing larger amount of clay and the straight side of the blade is used for smoothing the outsides of pots. The thinning of the walls of clay increase the height of the piece substantially, much like what happens to clay when thrown on a potter's wheel.

Boundless Ingenuity

An Ingenious Turntable
An Ingenious Turntable
When a pot is completely dry, it is then sanded with several grades of increasingly fine commercial sand paper. Some potters in Mata Ortiz use homemade turntables to turn their pots while working on them. The picture shows a turntable made from an automobile water pump!

Chorizos

A Chorizo being applied.
A Chorizo being applied.
These "pinch-pot" processes form the lower portion of the emerging form. After the bottom of the piece has been roughly shaped and the walls have been reduced in thickness, a large rope of clay, called a chorizo, is melded onto the top edge of the evolving pot. Mata Ortiz use of coils differs from techniques found elsewhere. Unlike other traditions, Mata Ortiz pottery uses coils that are very thick, typically (for a large pot) two to three inches in diameter. Also, instead of winding coils around and around to build up a pot in a spiral, potters make a single circle with the chorizo, joining the ends together. This is one of the reasons why Mata Ortiz potters can create pots with egg-shell thin walls. The weakest parts of hand built pottery are where pieces or edges are fused together. The method used by Mata Ortiz potters vastly reduces areas where clay is melded together and therefore greatly avoids breakages due to imperfect joining. Like the tortilla, the chorizo is also molded by the potter's hands and tools, thinning it and increasing the pot's height. Often, one more, smaller diameter chorizo is fused to the top edge of the pot in order to create a lip. Typically after the pot has been fully shaped and somewhat smoothed, the pot is set aside until it becomes "bone-dry" and no longer cool to the touch. In most cases, pots are not worked on in their semi-dry "greenware" state.

Sanding and Burnishing

Burnishing a Pot
Burnishing a Pot
After pots are well sanded, they are typically burnished to make their surface smooth. First the pot is wet with oil, kerosene, or water and then it is worked with a smoothing tool until its surface is as smooth as glass. Burnishing forces larger rough particles into the body of the piece so that only the smallest of particles remain on the surface. Again, the tools for this technique are simple and at times ingenious. While small smooth-surfaced and well-worn pieces of bone or stones are used, some potters use salvaged automobile engine "lifter rods" to burnish their pieces.

After burnishing, the pots are ready for painting. While there are many notable potters who perform all the numerous tasks required to make a piece of pottery, in many cases there is a familial division of labor. A wife might make the actual pot, a teenage son or daughter will do the sanding and burnishing, and the husband will paint the piece and then fire it. Generally, the person who paints the pot gets to sign his or her name on it. In some families there is a greater sharing of tasks, no one person being limited to a single role.

Painting the Pots

Hummingbird Pot
Incised Hummingbird Olla
To say that the painting of Mata Ortiz pots is painstaking would be a gross understatement. To create the nearly microscopic degree of detail some pots have, potters (and Juan Quezada is one) make brushes out of a few strands of a child's hair. These are affixed to some makeshift holder, not uncommonly a hollowed-out Bic pen. Larger areas can be covered with commercial brushes, but the outlines and finer details require brushes finer than ones that can be readily purchased. The intricate designs of many pots can take many weeks to complete. If you walk around Mata Ortiz in the evening, you will encounter few if any people on the streets. But softly gleaming out of the windows of many houses you will witness the tableau of a man or woman sitting at a table and applying one fine brush stroke after another on a clay pot.

Many of the designs and motifs found on Mata Ortiz pottery are highly stylized forms taken from nature. Snakes, turtles, macaws, reptiles, and fish are painted. In addition to these iconic forms, extremely precise and inventive geometric patterns are also favored. The most significant design difference between Mata Ortiz pottery and pre-Columbian Paquime or contemporary pottery in the Southwest is the sense of movement Mata Ortiz designs effect. Common to the centuries older Paquime pottery were horizontal bands on the top and bottom of pots, resulting in a rather static appearance. Mata Ortiz pottery breaks with this design tradition, having instead lines and design elements that swoop and swirl around, creating an impression of dynamic movement. Many designs are humorous and whimsical. Yet others seem to owe more to an M.C. Escher style than anything found elsewhere in the Southwest. If a glossy appearance is desired in the finished pot, it is once again burnished.

Firing the Pots

Man firing his pots
Man firing his pots
Photo by: Robert Tjasoncross
The last step in a journey toward making a Mata Ortiz treasure is firing the pot. First, large earthenware flower pots or metal containers are inverted over the pieces to be fired. Then, dried cow-dung or cottonwood bark is piled around and on top of the inverted containers, doused with kerosene and then set alight. The dung or bark burns intensely but evenly until it burns away. The heat from this process is sufficient to harden the pots considerably but is not sufficient to fully vitrify the clay. Therefore, the pots are rather porous and should not be filled with liquids. Firing is the last work that goes into making a Mata Ortiz pot.

Geometric Design
Geometric Pot by Eprien Ledezma

I hope at least some of our readers will be able to make the trip to northern Mexico and see for themselves "The Miracle of Mata Ortiz." Lodging in either Mata Ortiz or Nueva Casas Grande is still rather inexpensive (the price sometimes including meals!). You can get there by your own car, a rental car or a bus from Tucson that goes to Nueva Casas Grande where you can arrange transportation to Mata Ortiz. In addition to the many treasures of Mata Ortiz, there is a lot else to explore in the area, as this is a region filled with history and a very interesting mixture of cultures and environments.

Here are a few Internet and print resources, including some hopefully helpful travel information, should you decide to embark on your own quest to see and experience for yourself The Miracle of Mata Ortiz!





The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz
The Miracle of Mata Ortiz: Juan Quezada and the Potters of Northern Chihuahua
Cermanica Mata Ortiz
http://www.mataortiz.com/
http://www.ortizpots.com/
Wikipedia Article on Mata Ortiz Pottery

T. Johnston-O'Neill
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