Mexican Artistry

Pottery from Mata Ortiz

I look forward to the annual Mexican Artistry weekend at the Superstition Mountain Museum.  Artisans from Oaxaca and Mata Ortiz display their crafts, ranging from pottery, wood-carving and silver work. Liz and I manage to add to our collection every year.

Oaxacan wood carvings

The artists practice traditional techniques with skills that have been passed down from generation to generation.

The Mata Ortiz pottery is unique. While the bowls may be perfectly symmetrical, the artists have never used a pottery wheel. The ones that I have talked to that have tried to use a wheel failed dramatically.

Mario has exhibited in museums in the United States.

Instead, their pottery begins with the old coil technique, shaped by hand until the walls are almost paper thin. They do not have kilns, but instead fire over the bare ground under a bucket covered with wood that is lit.

The intricate designs are hand painted using brushed fashioned out of a single human hair. A single pot or vase can take weeks of painstaking work. The firing process is fraught with peril, with a high rate of breakage. A failed pot can mean the difference between the family eating well that week, or scrounging for rice and beans.

Porfirio Gutierrez demonstrates weaving.

The clay they use is only found in the Mata Ortiz area of Mexico. Extremely soft and pliable, it lends itself to the delicate workmanship.

Mario Castellanos is a wood carver. He uses chisels and small knives to create his carvings. His wife decorates the carvings by hand.

Our conversations are limited by my sparse knowledge of Spanish and Mario’s non-existent English. However, we both speak Mezcal!

Porfirio interprets for us. Three years ago, Porfirio knew almost no English. Today you would think it was his first language. His yarns are hand woven, and his dyes are all traditional and hand made.

The show at the museum is the perfect place to see demonstrations of the processes, and to see a wide range of their fine crafts. Of course my favorite part of the weekend are the nightly after parties. Food, cervesa, and good times.

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