Lydia Quezada Celado de Talavera, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
Lydia Quezada Celado de Talavera is the youngest sister of the renowned Juan Quezada of Mata, Ortiz, Chihuahua (featured in the book, "The Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art." Her husband, Rito, is an expert at firing the incredible thin-walled pottery made so famous by Juan Quezada.
Lydia is 52 and in the 30 years of marriage to her husband, Rito Talavera, they have worked together perfecting their own style and technique. Their daughter, Pabla (Pabi), 27, and son, Moroni, 16, are both following in their uncle's and mother's footsteps, learning the delicate and unique technique of creating what some people call Casas Grandes pottery.
Juan has often said that he believes of all the potters who have learned from him, Lydia has remained truest to the "original '' pottery technique Juan spent his entire life perfecting. Pabi, Lydia's daughter, is also becoming well known in her own right. (The pot first left is one of Pabla Quezada's; pot to the right is made by Lydia.)
The story of Mata Ortiz began in the rough cattle country of northern Chihuahua, hardly the place to find an artistic folk art movement. Yet a few dozen miles south of the rugged San Luis Mountains, the residents of Mata Ortiz produce a thin-walled, finely painted ceramic ware rivaling any handmade pottery in the world.
Juan Quezada grew up in the surrounding mountains and as a boy found pottery sherds from outlying areas around the ruins of a great city called Paquimé. He wondered about the ancient indigenous people and how they made such objects. When he had time at home, he dug clay in the arroyos, soaked it, and tried to make pots. They all cracked. Gradually, step by step, he mastered the process. Without any instruction, he had recreated the entire ceramic technology from clay preparation to firing, using only shards to guide him.
In 1974, Quezada decided to try to make his living selling his pottery. The sale of just one pot equaled one day’s wages and sometimes more. Within a decade, Juan Quezada was selling his pottery in the US but it wasn’t until he met an American trained in anthropology and art history, Spencer MacCallum, that Juan’s fame began to spread throughout the galleries of New Mexico and Arizona. This story continues in a fascinating tale that has changed the lives of every resident of Mata Ortiz.
Mata Ortiz Pottery was first produced over 1,000 years ago in an area of Northern Mexico called Casas Grandes or Paquimé. At first the pots were crude but evolved through trade with other cultures. The Paquimé culture peaked sometime in the 13th or 14th century and then disappeared for reasons that remain unknown.
In 1976, Anthropologist Spencer MacCallum discovered three intriguing handmade ceramic pots in a secondhand store in New Mexico. 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 Paquimé 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. (Spencer is pictured to the left in 2008.)
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 the status of one of the most skillful of its kind.
Lydia and Rito have added their own innovative creativity to their pottery. In 1996, they discovered how to make pots with three shades of black using the regional natural clays of Mata Ortiz. They carry on an indigenous tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
Nuevas Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
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