January 1, 2017
FROM THE EDITORS’ FILES
(As we prepare for
the 20th Gathering of the Friends of Mata Ortiz this
month, we thought it might be interesting for the many first
time visitors to the village to get a perspective on how the
village has changed due to the pottery industry. Below is a
March 2003 interview with Spencer MacCallum that Ron S.
Bridgemon conducted as he was working on his master’s thesis,
Mata Ortiz: A Community in Transition (2005). This represented
changes over nearly 30 years. Just reflect on the changes in the
16 years since that interview: pavement, cell phones, laptops,
communication via facebook, etc.)
In the time you have been visiting Mata Ortiz, what have
been the biggest changes?
Some of the things that come to mind are: trucks (but
horses continue to be popular with the young nonetheless);
indoor plumbing; a resident Catholic priest; propane instead of
split wood for cooking; water and electricity, once considered
special, are now taken for granted; people used to eat little
meat, occasionally some chicken but never beef, since all cattle
were sold north for fattening; hotels—places where visitors can
stay; high rate of employment (and mostly self-employment); no
more wet-backing – families stay together year-round; railroad
no longer running; rodeo is greatly built up and improved;
graded road; some inclination now to want education above the 6th
grade and even to university; the people regard themselves as
peers of Americans, don’t feel themselves at much if any social
disadvantage and longer.
How have the people’s homes changed in the past 25 years?
Exteriors have not changed
much in existing buildings other than fencing and such; not much
painting or replastering. There’s lots of new home construction.
Interiors much improved, many with nice bathrooms, attractive
kitchens with hanging cabinets, attractive parlors. (When I
first visited, you mostly went to the bathroom in the bushes by
the river. Consolacion Quezada had a dug latrine, which was
special, and she invited me to use it.)
To the best of your knowledge, how do potters spend the
funds that they get from ceramics?
Early on, people bought
cattle. Juan’s bought a lot of land as well, but I’m not aware
of many others following his example. People buy trucks; invest
in home improvements; buy lots of appliances—TV, VCRs, blenders,
etc.; buy lots of candy, toys, and name-brand clothing for the
kids; foodstuff (including meat nowadays). They spend heavily on
things like quinceaneras and weddings, but always did so far as
they were able. There’s probably more marrying now; many people
used to not marry because they couldn’t afford it. If they did
marry, it might be on one of the few occasions during the year
when a Catholic priest visited, and then, I believe, they would
combine their celebrations so that it cost less. (The groom’s
family used to bear the expense of the reception. Lydia Quezada
and Rito Talavera broke with that precedent, splitting the
expense between the two families. I’d be interested to know if
there’s been a general change in that custom.)
Has Mata Ortiz become dependent on pottery production?
Have monies from pottery been adequately used so that if for
some reason the pot production is no longer viable would the
people of Mata Ortiz be prepared to survive?
Yes, dependent. They
wouldn’t want to go back to that hard-scrabble life. I don’t
know if any are saving for the future, but rather doubt it. They
don’t trust banks. They do a lot of mutual help within their
family, helping elderly members and so forth, so that’s a kind
of insurance. They’re not into health care or preventing health
Letters to the Editors
July 1, 2016
From Your Editors
As we mentioned in our last two editorials, the
Calendar will now be
updated on a quarterly basis. Thus, the Breaking News tab which
was updated monthly is no more. Information relating to
exhibitions and events will need to reach us much earlier now if
you want your event to be mentioned.
Additionally, the News & Social Notes page has been eliminated.
As we mentioned before, most Mata Ortiz aficionados can now keep
abreast of village doings through the potters’ Facebook pages
and email. The Calendar’s
Facebook page will continue to cover some of the events
previously covered on the News page. Some news of significant
interest, like concurso (pottery competition) results, will now
appear in the Editorial page.
The Classified page has been sparingly used and seldom updated
by those who placed ads. Therefore, this page too has been
dropped. Short classifieds can still be placed in the Editorial
The main thrust of the
Calendar will continue to inform those new to the Mata Ortiz
phenomenon about the region and how to go about visiting.
Ron & Sue Bridgemon
April 1 2016
From Your Editors
Our January editorial elicited only two responses. Basically we
said we were considering eliminating the Breaking News page and
updating the Calendar
only on a quarterly basis. We will probably also drop the News &
Social Notes page as much of this information also appears on
Facebook page. Additionally, as we mentioned in the editorial,
most Mata Ortiz aficionados keep abreast of village doings
through the potters’ Facebook pages and email.
The Calendar will also
go through a facelift around July 1st. The main
thrust of the Calendar will continue to inform those new to the Mata Ortiz
phenomenon about the region and how to go about visiting.
Ron & Sue Bridgemon
From the Editors
With the start of a new year, it seems like the proper time to
assess the effectiveness of the
Calendar. We have been
maintaining this site (with technical help from our son Ron) for
almost five years. Since taking over this responsibility from
the MacCallums, we have been updating a revamped version of the
Calendar on a monthly
basis. Photos of significant events can now been seen on the
page. Does anyone care?
We are considering the elimination of the Breaking News page and
just going to a quarterly update. This would mean that the
Calendar would not be
able to inform you about last minute events and shows. You’ve
probably noticed that there are more show announcements from the
Arizona area than anywhere else. This is not surprising since we
are in Tucson and rely on vendors for input regarding upcoming
events. We can’t list your event if you don’t inform us. What do
Another consideration is the elimination of the News & Social
Notes page. It seems that the main mission of the
Calendar is to provide
information to those not really familiar with the Mata Ortiz
region and to those considering their first trip to the village.
Communication with the village has changed dramatically since
our first visit in 1996. It is now possible to email most of the
potters or call them on the phone. We are facebook friends with
many of the potters and their children, and this is where most
of the information comes from that ends up on the News & Social
Notes page. Most Mata Ortiz aficionados have this same access,
so is the Calendar’s
news just a late repeat? Give us your opinion.
Ron & Sue Bridgemon
What to do if your vehicle with Mexican Permit
is totaled in the U.S.
(Tucson resident Joanne Curtis recently had the misfortune of a
five month ordeal dealing with a Mexican vehicle permit on a car
that was totaled in an accident in the U.S. Below she provides
details of what you need to do to resolve this issue. While she
dealt with the Tucson Mexican Consulate, your local consulate
should provide the same service. This information will be
transferred permanently to the Traveling to Mexico page in
I returned to Tucson to find a letter from Mexico City
containing an official certificate of return for my car which
was totaled in an accident in Tucson.
As you know, I had already learned my permit was listed
as cancelled in the Mexican computers and had gotten my $300
deposit returned in Agua Prieta.
Since the Calendar is “information central” for issues
concerning travel to Mata Ortiz, I have a few tips for those who
find themselves in similar circumstances.
There is no system for cancelling permits if your vehicle
cannot be driven to Mexico to an issuing office and Banjercito
other than dealing with Mexico City.
Photograph your vehicle with the permit on the car and
license plate and vin number visible and readable.
2. Carefully remove the
hologram sticker (razor blade works well).
Carefully preserve and copy sticker.
3. Visit the Mexican
Consulate in Tucson and ask for Hammurabi H. Romero Rivera who
is in the Judicial Cooperation Department.
His office is in the basement of the new consulate at
3915 E. Broadway. In
other cities with other consulates, someone in a similar
position could help.
4. Ask Senor Romero to
call Mexico City (from the U.S. 01 800 46 36 728 and from Canada
1 877 44 88 728)) and ask them to FAX or email a copy of the
Mexican accident report form. I found that no matter how many
times I called Mexico City and waded through the answering
message, no one answered the phone at the appropriate
Romero also had trouble reaching anyone, but succeeded.
Mail: per consular advice
via FedEx or UPS, not regular mail (my FedEx packet cost $45).
This will give you a tracking number and list when the packet
arrived and who signed for it.
•original certificate of importation
•photographs of accident and car
•copy of official police report (if there were no injuries and
report was filed on-line, a certified copy of the report on
police stationery obtained for $5 at the police department)
•certified copy of title transfers
•certified copy of letter from your insurance company declaring
the car a total loss
•certified copy of payment to you by insurance company for the
•certified copy of current title (may be a salvage title which
you will have to obtain from your insurance company)
KEEP COPIES OF EVERYTHING YOU SEND!!!
If you receive a letter from Mexico City informing you that your
documents are incomplete, visit Sr. Romero again with your
letter and have him call Mexico City for you to clarify exactly
what is needed to complete the issuance of a certificate of
It is important to note that pieces of windshields with the
sticker on them are useless.
Mexico is concerned about the illegal importation of
vehicles, and that piece of glass proves nothing about where the
vehicle is and registered.
The whole process took me 5 months.
It took about 6 weeks for me to receive the return
certificate in the mail after my second packet of information
was mailed, the first not containing a salvage title nor an
official certified accident report on police letterhead.
From the Himalayas to the Sierra Madres
(Arizona residents Ron &
Vicki Sullivan sent this piece to us recently. We hope this will
inspire others to think of similar joint ventures that might
benefit the Mata Ortiz community.
In early October 2015 a vehicle filled with children’s clothing
will depart Quail Creek and drive about 300 miles to the pueblo
of Juan Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico.
How these winter clothing gifts hand-crafted by Nepalese women
will reach the foothills of the Sierra Madres begins with a
story involving the communities of Tucson and Quail Creek.
For many years Quail Creek residents Vicki and Ron Sullivan have
been connected with the people and potters in the community of
Published narratives and books, gallery shows, and farmers’
markets have been the communication tools for sharing the
potters’ incredible story.
However, visits to Mata Ortiz remain key to connecting
with the community.
Rainy Arizona business owners Ellen and Paul Regoort have been
supporting another emerging artistic community not in the Sierra
Madres but in distant Himalayan communities of Nepal.
Like the Mata Ortiz pottery renaissance, Nepalese
hand-made clothing also has important historical and cultural
significance. The Regoorts are keenly aware of the similarities
among the Nepal and Mata Ortiz phenomena and these
The families share a commonality in promoting the arts and
creativity of these two cultures through the Tucson and Green
Valley farmers’ markets venues. Through a joint venture with
Rainy Arizona, gifts will be delivered to the Mata Ortiz
families most in need.
I’ve received so many congratulations on the Ohtli Award given
me at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso this past Cinco de Mayo,
and the turnout at the Consulate was so large — perhaps as many
as 200 people — that I’d like to give some report of it. I gave
a short talk in Spanish — well, at one point I couldn’t think of
the words in Spanish and finished the sentence in English, and
everybody laughed. But here in English is the gist of my talk:
What has been called the “miracle of Mata Ortiz” has made the
world a more beautiful place for thousands of people. But this
wasn’t something that Juan Quezada alone could have done, or the
two of us alone; it took the generous help of many hundreds of
people, Mexican and American, making up what I like to think of
as the Mata Ortiz extended family. Yet it all did start with the
spirit and inspiration of a single person — Juan Quezada.
Juan was not necessarily the first person in Mata Ortiz to
attempt making pots and figures of clay, but his motivation was
different. Others were motivated to make something commercial;
it was enough that what they made was saleable. Juan’s
motivation was the sheer joy of making something excellent,
something of beauty. During the early years of his
experimenting, it never occurred to him that anything practical
would come of what he was doing. Only later did he discover that
people would buy what he made. He introduced the idea of quality
to Mata Ortiz. It was a novel idea at the time. But today
everyone in the village knows what quality is, and it is the key
to their success.
Nor is Juan necessarily the best potter in Mata Ortiz today.
There are perhaps a dozen world-class artists working in Mata
Ortiz who, like Juan, are now sought after by name. But as the
Japanese people, traditionally the world’s foremost ceramists,
never tire of saying, the mark of the truly exceptional teacher
is that his pupils surpass him.
Juan developed a complete ceramic technology alone, with no
inputs from the outside. He experimented for sixteen years
before he made pots that satisfied him. Another of the early
potters of Mata Ortiz relates how he once made repeated visits
to Juan to show him how to make figures of clay and finally gave
up in frustration; he said Juan could not learn. The truth is
that Juan, albeit diplomatically, refused to learn from other
people. He would not deny himself the joy of experimenting and
discovering something for himself, and thereby making it his
The Ohtli Award is particularly appropriate, “ohtli” being a
Nahuatl, or Aztec, word for “path,” meaning the path one can
follow to one’s greatest self fulfillment. Juan and I opened
many paths to museums, schools and universities in the United
States, exhibiting his work and demonstrating how it was made.
Today potters of Mata Ortiz regularly make trips following those
paths and opening new ones of their own, and they are the best
cultural ambassadors Mexico could ask for. Not only are they
pursuing their own “ohtlis,” but by their example they are
inspiring and encouraging people within Mexico, as well as many
Mexican migrants north of the border, to discover within
themselves their hidden talents and pursue their ohtli.
Without the help of innumerable people from other parts of
Mexico, other countries of Latin America, the United States,
Europe, and Asia, the example of Juan Quezada could not have
blossomed into the “miracle of Mata Ortiz.” The honor I am
receiving today is a fitting recognition, therefore, of Mata
Ortiz’ extended family. It is an honor to me to receive it on
behalf of that family — of which I am more than just a little
proud to be a part.
Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
May 12, 2015
Clarence "Oz" Osmer
Mata Ortiz lost a great friend and generous benefactor when Oz
died on Sept. 26th. Oz began his countless trips to Mata Ortiz
with his old friend John Davis, one of the pioneer visitors to
Mata Ortiz. John would always take smooth polishing stones to
the potters and abundant candy to the village children. Hence he
became known affectionately as "Senor Dulces.” It was on these
trips that Oz fell in love with Mata Ortiz. I met Oz and his
beloved Phyllis during one of the early "Traders Meetings" in
southern Arizona and after swapping stories, we became instant
friends. Oz had an irrepressible sense of humor and to be around
him was to be constantly entertained. Subsequently, Oz and I
made many trips to the village together, neither one of us
needing an excuse to "head south" for a few days to enjoy the
treasures that awaited us in the form of wonderful art and
remarkably friendly people. Oz's never wavering goal was to
convince everyone he met that Mata Ortiz was a magic place. He
would stop at nothing to convince perfect strangers that they
too must visit his "second home" and enjoy its treasures. Often
it was not enough to tell folks about Mata Ortiz, he would
personally accompany them there. Once there, new visitors would
become 'converts,’ most returning time and again. Ironically,
for all his exposure to Mexico, Oz spoke very little
Spanish!....and he didn't need to! He could converse with the
potters at length..... Spanish and English intermingling freely,
words broken up with Oz's most infectious guffaws!
Great moments in Mata Ortiz would record Oz "holding
court" nightly in the Posada de las Ollas to anyone who would
listen. And listen we would! Stories old and new, ever
changing.....always informative, entertaining, and enlightening
told with humor and a love for his Mata Ortiz. I don't know if
he realized it himself, but Oz was probably as effective an
"ambassador" that Mata Ortiz ever knew. His contagious affection
for this little village resulted in more new friendships and
countless pottery sales than could be imagined. Oz's ashes will
be scattered on November 1st near Glenwood Springs, New
Mexico...and I have no doubt that a gentle fall breeze will
surely carry some of them down to his beloved Mata Ortiz.
Bien viaje, Amigo!
Letter to the Editors
Help Needed for a Deserving Mata Ortiz Student
Recently I had an opportunity to sit down with
Hector Mario Heras
Martinez with Susan and Ron Bridgemon at their house in Mata
Ortiz. Mario is majoring in Chemistry at the University (UACH)
in Chihuahua. He was at the very top of his class in Mata Ortiz
for 10 years straight. They do not have a valedictorian here at
the schools, but I am sure he would have been it if they had. He
graduated here in Mata Ortiz and then went to the University
completely without any outside help. In fact, he is picking
chilies on his two week vacation for about $12 a day to help pay
for books. Mario Heras is Lalo Heras’ (Posada de las Ollas)
nephew. Mario also works part time in Chihuahua fixing computers
to help make ends meet. The school cost about $900 a year and
his rent is about $1500 a year which he must pay himself. He
received a onetime gift of $250 from the “Grupo Siete” here in
Mata Ortiz. My question to you all is it wise investing in
buildings and chairs if someone like Mario has to pick chilies
to stay in school after they graduate here? Is there nothing
above and beyond the nonprofit group here that is in place to
help these kids once they do graduate? He needs just a little
help to remain in school. And yes, I know that the group here
has to request how the Mata Ortiz Foundation funds (American
money) will be used, but this can be a very long process and
cause jealousy in some cases. Mario needs help now. I know many
of you who have visited Mata Ortiz are retired educators and I
appeal to you for help. If you have access to mailing lists of
Mata Ortiz aficionados, please pass this appeal on to them. Any
money will help keep this brilliant student in college. The
editors of the Mata Ortiz
Calendar have graciously volunteered to collect any
donations for Mario and they will transfer the funds directly to
him. Checks should be made out to Ron Bridgemon and sent to 4545
W. Flying Diamond, Tucson, AZ 85742.
I'm really more interested in ''out of the box'' thinking to
help him. Any thoughts on this? Couldn’t some kind of
scholarship be worked on separately? I just talked to Mario
again and he said, “I need help because I'm running out of
LETTER TO THE EDITORS
Potter Peter Chartrand came to Mata Ortiz 10-12 years ago to buy
pottery to sell in his shop in Bisbee, Arizona, together with
his own pottery and that of a dozen or so other potters. He was
pleasantly surprised with sales, and soon bought a house in Mata
Ortiz. (That house is for sale: see the Classified page in the
Trouble for Peter began this past January, when he worked
several weeks on a large wood-fire stoneware kiln, on his 100
acre property in Mexican Canyon, outside of Bisbee. The physical
labor made him very sore; he just thought that he'd over done
it, but as weeks went by, he got worse instead of better. He
became bed ridden, and finally was diagnosed with Multiple
Myeloma, a cancer which causes white blood cells to multiply
abnormally and accumulate in the bone marrow. This makes the
bones weak and they break easily. Peter is anemic and has
several fractured vertebrae and ribs. He spent nine days in a
Tucson hospital and 13 days in another Tucson facility. He is
undergoing chemotherapy and needs nearly constant care. So far,
family and friends have really gone to bat for him. Medicare is
quickly exhausted with stays in facilities, and only pays 80%,
but he is hopeful of being approved for AHCESS, Arizona's
Medicaid Plan for those with low income. Peter was a ceramics
instructor at Cochise College years ago, and more recently was
director of a U.S. based non-profit, Potters For Peace, which
assists developing world potters in making a low-tech ceramic
water filter to provide communities with potable drinking water.
Those of us who are friends with Peter know him to be an
intellectual with a continual smile and an easy laugh. He sorely
needs support from the Mata Ortiz community at this difficult
time. Financial support can be sent to the Peter Chartrand
Family Fund, P.O. Box 1043, Bisbee, AZ 85603.
Dear Friends of Mata Ortiz,
I grew up on the Hacienda you visited this afternoon. My daddy
was the Patrón (Boss),
and I the luckiest child. I grew up with a
bosque behind the
ranch house. About eighteen years ago, we had a thunderstorm and
the old trees lit up the sky and burned for days with March
winds about 40 mph.
I remember the maids taking us to the river every afternoon, to
wade as a child and actually swim the fast current as a
teenager. We’d go fishing, have picnics, and moonlight rides.
We’d cross the river on horseback. We’d go read there. We could
be sad there, for it was a place of solace. We danced and
romanced there. The trees were my second home. . . I have always
Much to my chagrin, two years ago the Municipality started
uprooting the century-old trees near the bridge here in Casas
Grandes. We battled City Hall, all protection agencies, the
State government. All for naught. It took a Presidential
order to get them to quit. So they did for two years.
Last month the caterpillars started their path of destruction
again. I would encourage you to take a ten-mile drive to Colonia
Madero. The pain of seeing the ecocide is more than I can take.
If not, I would take you personally. If you cannot go, please go
to your computer and send comments. We have to SAVE the
river, mother earth.
You’re probably thinking: What was the purpose? Supposedly they
were to clean up the river bed. Get sand and debris out
to increase the flow. Instead they are raping the earth,
clearing 200-500 year old trees . . .
Please help me - Us - the Trees.
[Spencer MacCallum read Carmela’s letter at the October 12
Gathering of the Friends of Mata Ortiz after most of the
participants had visited the historic Hacienda Corralitos. This
project is billed as a channelizing of the river accompanied by
the removal of vegetation (cottonwoods) perceived to be
responsible for water loss. Additional background information is
available at the following site:
You can help save the
trees by adding your name to an online petition by going to:
http://chn.ge/16SbdcF. You can also direct your concerns to Alex
Lebaron, Chihuahua Diputado (Representative of the Mexican
Congress), who was raised in the region and is sympathetic to
this issue. He is fluent in English and be contacted at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the following video for more
In response to Richard Ryan’s recent “Letter to the Editor,” I
stand by the research and methodology behind my
Journal of the Southwest
article “Reconstructing a Miracle.”
From the onset, my article was very clear about offering
a “new perspective” about memory and history within the village.
Offered in an academic setting, this perspective is valid as
documented by the villagers themselves.
In addition, Ryan’s unauthorized and selective use of a small
fraction of my personal copyrighted research material is
misleading. He has no sense of two years of study that occurred
before my first interview with Annie Copeland or the several
documented exchanges after (not to mention supporting materials
from multiple sources, many of which were not pursued in the my
original article due to space or content constraints).
It is tempting to say more—for this is a huge topic. But I’d
rather leave it with two short thoughts.
With so many exciting things happening in the village, it is
unfortunate that, once more, some Americans have focused their
attention on defending the single narrative of one American
instead of where it should be: with the potters.
To allow this Calendar
to become partisan in any direction is their loss.
Mata Ortiz trader Jim Hills recently published an article
which paints an untrue picture of Spencer MacCallum.
Hill alleges that Spencer MacCallum trafficked Mexican
prehistoric pots and invented a Mata Ortiz myth for his own
financial gain; a myth which has damaged the familial self image
throughout the village.
I know from many conversations with Jim Hills that he
sincerely believes this nonsense.
Hill's deeply misunderstands the nature and extent of
Spencer MacCallum's role in the Mata Ortiz story.
Here is a letter that I wrote to the publication editor;
I hope that you will print it.
Dear Mr. Wilder,
29 September 2012
I write to express deep disappointment about the ‘hit
piece’ on Spencer MacCallum by Jim Hills in Journal of the
Southwest. I have an article in the same issue, and my name
appears first in Jim's list of acknowledgements. Many of the
historical photos that appear in the issue were obtained for Jim
by me. Jim and I collaborated for some years on this project.
The oral history research that I have been conducting in Mata
Ortiz concurs with Jim's research in areas, but with one very
large exception: the role of Spencer MacCallum.
Upon seeing Jim's first draft, my wife Jane and I were
Jim’s writing presented a very negative, inaccurate, biased
portrayal. I have known Spencer MacCallum for more than 20 years
and have come to realize that his part in the Mata Ortiz story
has been essentially a very positive role. Jim’s article conveys
the opposite view: Spencer was a trafficker in prehistoric
pottery and has “damaged familial self-image throughout the
village and bred resentment…..” etc., etc., and that Spencer
fabricated half truths in a marketing strategy to promote sales
for his financial gain. The reader would believe that Spencer's
involvement in Mata Ortiz was a cold hearted marketing strategy.
Early on, we naively urged Jim to present the results of
his research without 'taking Spencer down.' Many others were
advising him likewise, including his wife. Time went by, and
after my initial criticism, Jim never showed me another draft.
The last time that Jim and I discussed his article was here in
my home, several months ago. At that time, I told him that
unless he made substantial changes regarding his treatment of
Spencer, I would have to pull my article from the issue.
Months went by, nothing from Jim. When the volume was
published, I could not believe what I was reading! Jim's article
savaged Spencer MacCallum, and in many instances with more
severity than the draft I had seen. I emailed Jim that if I had
seen the final draft, I would have pulled out my article. I have
since learned that after Walter Parks and Dr. Richard O’Connor
criticized the initial draft, they were also not shown any
further drafts. In fact, the reason Walter pulled two of his
articles slated for publication in the issue, was due to Jim's
refusal to show him any further drafts after his initial
criticism. What was Jim’s motive for using my name in his
article but secretively refusing to show me what he was writing?
Jim Hills negative depiction of Spencer MacCallum is most
absurd when he tries to prove that Spencer was 'in it for the
money,' or for Spencer, it was somehow an investment. Jim
states: "Spencer has always denied being a trader," then
presents information to suggest that for Spencer, it was a
business. As part of
his research, Jim conducted an interview with Anne Copeland,
Information gathered in that interview squarely contradicts the
depiction presented by Jim in Journal of the Southwest.
Following is an excerpt from that interview, and please note the
bias in Jim's phrasing of the first question:
Hills: And so the Juan Quezada thing was just another kind
Copeland: It was another kind of thing, as was everything
he did he saw it as---and the funny thing is, Spencer wasn't
concerned about money, I mean he didn't think---he wasn't like
most people; he didn't think about money, he just thought about
how fun it was to be involved with it.
Copeland: That was his whole reason for getting---he never
thought about, gee if I do this I can make so much money---that
was never the aspect of it for him at all on anything he did.
Everything was about the adventure---the, the being involved
with something that's very leading-edge or that's
antigovernment, or that's, you know, something exciting that's
going on. It had nothing to do with money, never did. Because
like I said, we never sold one pot. We never................
Hills: But, but in the newsletters and stuff, people would
come and buy pottery.
Copeland: People got the pottery. They got it but they
didn't buy it from Spencer. They bought it directly----Spencer
allowed them to come and buy pottery through the potters but the
potters got the money themselves; Spencer never took any of it.
He never took one cent of it. So they, in other words, he would
let people come individually and they would see the pottery at
an exhibit or something and he'd let them buy it, but the money
went straight to the potters. It never touched his hands.
You will have to agree, Mr. Wilder, that the factual
information which Jim Hills has gathered in the Copeland
interview, regarding Spencer and the money--- stands in radical
contradiction to what you have published. Of this there can be
I recall an incident 10 or 15 years ago when I had brought
Mata Ortiz potters to a demonstration and sale in Sedona,
Arizona. Spencer was living in Tonopah, Nevada. I asked him to
come and speak, which he did, in his old Datsun pickup, in
return for gas money and food, nothing more. He did this several
times for me. If you should read Jim's entire interview with
Anne Copeland, as you should, you will see that Jim Hills did
not simply present the facts as he uncovered them. His
presentation of the facts was selective to suite the tremendous
negative bias that he holds against Spencer MacCallum. After our
last conversation with Jim Hills, my wife and I were aghast at
what Jim had said about Spencer. Jim’s perception of Spencer is
basically that Spencer is a self promoting crook and a
scoundrel. Jim is consumed with this conviction. I have come to
realize that Jim’s dislike for Spencer has deeply slanted his
interpretation and selection of the facts produced by his
Here is another example: For the longest time, Jim had me
convinced that Spencer MacCallum was a ‘fence’ for prehistoric
artifacts. That is, whenever someone dug up a prehistoric pot,
Spencer was the first one approached. Two months ago, after
reading Jim’s article, I had a conversation with Mata Ortiz
potter Cesar Dominguez regarding Spencer being a ‘fence.’ At
that time, Jim still had me convinced. Cesar related to me a
recent incident in which a man brought a number of prehistoric
pots to Cesar for sale. Cesar looked at them and talked with the
man and eventually told him he was not interested. The man then
asked if Cesar could direct him to someone, that may be
interested, preferably a gringo. Cesar told him the only gringo
in the area was Spencer and gave him directions. A few weeks
later, Cesar happened to encounter the same man and inquired how
it went with the gringo. The man replied, “Oh he looked at them
but didn’t even ask me the price and said he wasn’t interested.”
Here is another excerpt from the Copeland interview which
directly contradicts Jim’s defamatory depiction of Spencer as a
trafficker of prehistoric pottery:
Hills: What about antique pottery? Prehistoric pottery?
Copeland: Never, Never. We didn’t even touch it. We had no
antique pottery at all. None. In fact, Spencer for some reason,
he didn’t even seem interested in that because we would find
sherds all the time when we were down there, and I would say,
you know Spencer we should really, you know, get these sherds
and then look at them with the new (Mata Ortiz pottery sherds)
to see what the---you know, see what the relationship is and
all. And he’s like, no; I don’t want to carry that. I don’t want
to carry that.
In conclusion, Hills' personal vendetta against Spencer
has removed credibility from his presentation. It could have
been one of the classics in the field were it not for the
communication of false information about Spencer MacCallum. Jim
is likable, intelligent, articulate, persuasive, and has managed
to get Joseph Carleton Wilder to publish his anti-Spencer
crusade. I do not
wish to be associated with advocacy journalism which you have
published. At my
request, Jim Hills has promised me that if there is another
printing of this issue of Journal of the Southwest, my article
and all mention of my name will be removed. Could you please
verify for me that this will indeed be the case?
Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter,
Richard M. Ryan
In Praise of
I hope all the Norte Americanos realize what an incredible job
Javier Mendoza, our ‘homeboy’ President has been doing for Mata
Ortiz. He was elected just a few years ago as the Municipal
President of Casas Grandes and the surrounding area which
includes Juan Mata Ortiz. He married a local girl by the name of
Fabiola Saenz Veloz, whose parents are Saul Veloz and Armida
For the unfortunate ones who have not been able to visit Mata Ortiz
this past year, I am happy to report that the roads here are
virtually free of trash. Before, the mesquite were decorated
with shreds of old plastic sacks making them look like Christmas
trees from hell; but now, one would be hard pressed to find the
occasional bag floating down the road. Javier has also been
approved for funding to build an incredible ‘lagoon’ that will
be constructed near Santa Rosa. It will hold the excess water
runoff during hurricane season, the only time Mata Ortiz gets
any water. Get your water skis ready. This could be a major game
changer for the farmers here who rely on gravity fed irrigation,
and has the possibility of supplying the fields with a steady
water supply all year long.
On top of these achievements, he is employing virtually anyone who
wants to work here on these projects. This is desperately needed
during the current slump in pottery sales.
His close working relationship with the now Governor of Chihuahua,
Cesar Duarte, has been very fruitful as is evident by their many
In the most recent news, Javier just finalized yesterday in
Chihuahua, state and federal funds will be available for a new
functioning library for Mata Ortiz to be built near the old
train station. I believe this will be staffed and run with local
funds and should be built and completed in the next ten months.
The library will also contain computers and
free wireless internet, which we are hoping will also include an
upgrade in our service to a higher speed broadband Internet.
There will be outside seating in garden like settings for laptop
users in the village. The long term effect of these projects has
the potential, I feel, of moving the village forward in the next
ten years as much as the collaborated discovery of pottery
These are just some of the projects that Javier Mendoza has funded
with his aggressive pursuit of Federal, State and local
money—which has always been available, but none before him had
the fortitude and the know how to apply for.
We will all lament his term expiring in about a year and half. He
has shown incredible natural talent at public speaking which
just can’t be learned from books. He has a real knack for making
whoever he is talking to feel they are his best friend, a rare
He has already paved two of our streets in Mata Ortiz and they will
be installing a whole new water system to every house very soon.
Not to mention a complete makeover of the old train station to
accommodate seating and flower beds, complete with a playground
on the south side.
His plans for the Concurso
this year to be part of a weeklong celebration for the 16th
of September is being greatly anticipated in the village. I hope
all of you have received your Festival Schedule and I am sure
many will want to attend at least our first “Belly Dance” here
on September 9th. No, in spite of having the perfect
belly for this, I will not be performing; it will be performed
by one of the many guest artists and is just one of the many fun
things going on that week.
If Javier Mendoza were a stock, I would be buying, because I am
quite certain the political system here is not about to let such
a valuable asset slip through their hands no matter what party
is in office after his term expires.
Thanks Mister Presidente.
THE BELLS OF JANOS
Unbelievably, someone has stolen bells from the 16th
century church in Janos. The bells, reportedly made in Spain in
1383 were taken from Nuestra Señora de la Soledad in mid April.
These bells have great historical significance as well as
cultural importance to the area.
Two of the bells above were removed while the remaining bell was
taken to the safety of the new Catholic Church. What makes this
news even sadder is that funds had just become available to
continue the restoration of this historic church.
Amazingly, this is not the first time that church bells have
been stolen from Janos. In 1974, another bell was taken from
Soledad and reportedly is now in the possession of a professor
in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Another bell had been taken earlier
from the 1866 Mission Juan de Dios which is located just a
couple of blocks west of Soledad. You can read more about the
history of these churches in
The Magnetism of Mata
an amateur historian, I am
someone would commit such an act. Undoubtedly this was done for
monetary gain, so the perpetrators will be trying to sell these
bells. We ask you to keep your eyes and ears open. Please let
the authorities or the
Calendar know if you learn anything. Hopefully we can get
the bells back to their rightful place.
SUPPORT MATA ORTIZ
In our last
editorial, we urged you to support the village economy by making
return visits. Our visits in February and March were as
wonderful as ever. We do understand that there may be many
reasons why you can’t presently travel to Mata Ortiz. However,
if you are like us, the village is always in your heart and
thoughts. Below are three ways in which you can actively support
the community without actually visiting. Of course the village
would also like to see you again!
Mata Ortiz Foundation
Arising from an
idea and discussions at the annual meeting of traders (now The
Friends of Mata Ortiz), the Mata Ortiz Foundation (MOF), part of
the International Community Fund (ICF), became a reality in
2001. Past projects of the Foundation include the library, two
middle-school classrooms, middle-school computers, and most
recently doubling the size of the kindergarten building (read
more on the News page). These were cooperative projects with the
village and municipio,
organized by the local non-profit
Unidos por Mata Ortiz.
Thirty-five thousand dollars have been raised by the Foundation
and the regular participants of the annual Gathering of the
Friends of Mata Ortiz have been particularly generous according
to MOF treasurer, Walter Parks.
Unidos por Mata Ortiz
has proposed a classroom at the new high school as the next
project. Contact Walter Parks for more information or to make a
donation (951-684-4224, 6154 Hawarden Dr. Riverside, CA 92506).
Corazones Alegres (Happy
This group was the
brainchild of Daniel Acosta from Hacienda de San Diego. Diana,
his sister, brought the concept to the annual Gathering of the
Friends of Mata Ortiz a couple of years ago. While the pottery
sales have enriched the lives of many in the village, many are
still very poor or incapacitated so that they are unable work.
Daniel and his family thought that they could help these people
by assembling and delivering
despensas, packages of
food staples and basic supplies, to them. A collection was made
at the Gathering and the project was underway. Those most needed
were identified with the assistance of the Mata Ortiz clinic.
Shortly thereafter, it was learned that many families were
having difficulties handling the cost associated with the
schooling of their children due to the price of school supplies
and school fees associated with tests and heating costs. Daniel
decided that the group’s focus needed to expand to include
school supplies and scholarships to good students. It is
Daniel’s desire to make distributions to the needy each month,
but is constrained by the flow of donations.
Many Friends of Mata Ortiz have assisted in passing out
Believe us, it is a very rewarding experience. It’s also
wonderful to see local young folks taking such an active role in
their community. To see a video of
despensas, go to:
You can watch a video of the scholarship program at:
Corazones Alegres is currently
seeking non-profit status in both the United States and Mexico.
For more information, contact Daniel Acosta, president of the
Daniel is pictured below.
Mata Ortiz Grupo Siete AC
Ortiz potter Diego Valles recently announced the creation of a
new organization of potters in the village. Mata Ortiz Grupo
Siete AC is a group of seven local artisans who envision their
organization as one that will be recognized for the quality of
its contributions to the cultural, artistic, and educative
development of its community, state, and country. The
organization is an official non-profit civil association funded
by Mata Ortiz potters and sponsored by the National Youth
Institute of Mexico.
They are working hard on their new website.
In the meantime, you can join them on Facebook and
contact Diego Valles (diego_valles[at]yahoo.com).
The Village Needs
downturn and the continuing media blitz concerning the “dangers”
of traveling into Mexico are having a tremendous impact on the
potters of Mata Ortiz. With the current economic atmosphere in
the US, the negative publicity about Mexico is all it takes to
keep many from visiting this fantastic village. Ten years ago if
you were with a tour group, you were very likely to see two to
three other groups in the village at the same time. You even had
to book the local hotels in advance to ensure there would be
space for your group. Today if you go, you’ll probably not see
another person from north of the border. Naturally this is
hurting the many potters whose livelihood has been built around
selling their ceramic art.
traders are still purchasing pottery for sale in the retail
market. They too are seeing the impact of a poor economy as the
sales are down and often limited to the more reasonably priced
pots. However, the potters need the positive feedback from
individuals who are purchasing pottery for themselves.
While the traders are a very essential element in this
market, it is still a business for them. Nothing is more
rewarding to the artist than having a group of onlookers cheer
and clap as their pot is “born” from the firing.
You may have
noticed that many more potters from the village are now coming
north to sell their pots at special events. Unfortunately, they
currently face fees on both sides of the border. Of course this
and the travel involved affect their overhead and limit their
profits. This is for the fortunate few with their paperwork.
There are many potters unable to obtain the complicated and
costly permits required to sell in the United States.
The potters need
your support and would like to see you return to Mata Ortiz.
Let’s look at the safety issue. Much has been said about this
issue elsewhere in the Calendar (see under Traveling
to the Village below and near the bottom of
Editorial pages). We have traveled down to the village on nearly a
monthly basis since 1996 without incident.
Basically, tourists are not being bothered. We direct
your attention to an article in the December 25 issue of the
Arizona Daily Star (http://azstarnet.com/travel/scenic-safe-copper-canyon/article_6e188964-1b8f-5d46-b0fe-4de3d8cf846f.html)
where Lisa Adams writes about her trepidation of traveling to
Chihuahua’s Copper Canyon alone as a single woman. She had a
wonderful time and now encourages others to travel into Mexico.
If you admire
and/or collect Mata Ortiz pottery, you will find great prices
and a huge selection in Mata Ortiz. Meeting the artists and
watching the processes make the pots and memories special. If
you’ve been considering a return, do it now.
They need your help!
Changing of the Guard - Words from Your New
We’d like to introduce ourselves. We are Ron and Sue Bridgemon.
While we live in Tucson, Arizona, we are also part-time
residents of Mata Ortiz.
We are humbled to be taking over the responsibility of
maintaining the Mata Ortiz
Calendar of Events from Spencer and Emi MacCallum. Anyone
who is familiar with the area at all knows just how much they
have contributed to the region.
We hope that their confidence in our ability will be
justified. We first visited Mata Ortiz in 1996, the year before
the MacCallums started the on-line
Calendar became a
wealth of information for us as we started exploring the region.
All the data packed into the
Calendar assisted us
greatly and we hope it will continue to do so for others.
Interestingly enough, our first visit to the area was to see
Cueva de la Olla and the village of Mata Ortiz was secondary to
us at that point. We had been exploring caves around the world
for several decades and Olla looked like an interesting
archaeological site. We had also been guiding tours to
Chihuahua’s spectacular Copper Canyon, but the Casas Grandes
region was unknown to us. After that first, and what we expected
to be our last visit, we fell in love with the region, the
people, and the pottery. We have been returning on an almost
monthly basis and a few years later we had a house built in the
village. For a number of years, we led tours to Mata Ortiz for
various organizations. Currently we put together caravan trips
and try to facilitate visits to the area. We wanted to share the
region and introduce new potters to the world, so in 2010 we,
along with Russ and Jan Diers, Katie Iverson, and John Gentile,
wrote and published The
Magnetism of Mata Ortiz (www.magnetismofmataortiz.com).
Ron S. Bridgemon, our son, did his master’s thesis on Mata Ortiz
in 2005 and for the past several years, he has been the site
administrator for the
know the MacCallums appreciated his efforts and had he not
agreed to stay on in that capacity, we might not have agreed to
take on this task. Fortunately for us, Dr. Richard O’Connor has
also agreed to continue in his capacity of maintaining the
Anthropology Notes page in the
At present, we plan to update the
Calendar on a
quarterly basis. We need your help to make this successful.
Please email or call us with information regarding your tours,
classes, and events. Put us on your email announcement list.
Calendar updates, this site can have a positive effect upon
the success of your ventures. While we may be in the village
monthly, we need all the help we can get from other residents
and all Friends of Mata Ortiz in order to share news and
information on local doings. If you send us local news, we’ll
give you the credit. We are looking for reporters! Your opinions
on the area are also welcome in the form of letters to the
For history buffs, we want to direct your attention to one of
the Calendar’s website
links – The Mata Ortiz
Historical Society (MOHS). Several Friends of Mata Ortiz
have become interested in the history of the region and Dave
Nelson has set up the MOHS website for us to share information.
At this point, much of the material relates to the 1910-1920
Mexican Revolution, but the site hopes to eventually contain all
aspects of the history of the Casas Grandes Region. We hope you
will look at, and contribute to, the MOHS site at
We sadly announce the passing of master potter Nicolás Quezada
Celado on August 15, 2011. Please read below and then read a
tribute to him and a note regarding his funeral on the News &
Social Notes page of the Calendar.
Changing of the Guard
Emalie and I began
the Mata Ortiz Calendar of Events in 1997, then a newsletter
that had to become a website when we moved to Casas Grandes and
couldn’t send bulk mailings from Mexico. It was called
“Calendar” because it tracked pottery events in the United
States, but it became much more. Today it has become a nearly
encyclopedic website, listing what we consider the 65 most
important books and articles about Mata Ortiz and the
surrounding region; dozens of films and videos; available
pottery classes; tours (we track more than 30 organizations and
their scheduled tours twelve months ahead); anthropology notes;
classified ads; museum exhibitions and scheduled events such as
pottery workshops, sales, and competitions in the United States
and Mexico; more than 80 web sites, 60 chosen for their
photographs of Mata Ortiz pottery and 20 for other reasons; and
the largest section, “Traveling to the Village,” giving detailed
information on issues of safety; crossing the border; points of
interest along the way and in the area; seasonal weather; road
conditions; phoning to, from, and in Mexico; exchanging and
wiring money; car rentals; bus and van schedules; local airport
facilities; hotels and restaurants; tipping and other customs;
bilingual guides; local history; festival dates; industries of
the region; buying, packing, shipping, appraising, and insuring
pottery; and much more. We also provide on request the most
complete telephone directory of Mata Ortiz, more so than TELMEX
for land lines and including many cell phones, for which there
is no list anywhere.
has been great fun compiling all of this and keeping it current,
and being something of a contact point for the area. But I’m in
my 80th year and Emi is in her 74th, and we’ve other priorities
we must attend to. So we’re passing the baton to others—though
we will keep in touch and continue as a contact point locally.
We’ll still be available to talk with tour groups or for Spencer
to give his slide talk at museum exhibitions and such. We’ll
always be at hand for questions by phone (our El Paso line,
915-261-0502, rings here in Mexico) or by email at
and of course we do hope visitors will continue to stop on their
way through Casas Grandes to say hello and tell us what they’re
coming to see and do. We’re easy to find in Casas Grandes
(Pueblo Viejo); we’re at the second stop sign as you come
through town, the house on the left corner with the vine-covered
fence and the loud-mouthed dogs: 420 Avenida Victoria. From the
left-hand lane, you can drive directly across into our parking
MANUEL OLIVAS, R.I.P
We have lost the most inventive
and colorful of potters of Casas Grandes and an outstanding
human being. About six p.m. last night, Thursday, May 3, while
sitting and talking with friends, Manuel Olivas Lucero fell over
without warning and died.
When I arrived in Nuevo Casas
Grandes 31 years ago, looking for the maker of three anonymous
pots I had found in a junk shop in Deming, New Mexico, I was
directed to Manuel Olivas’ house near the main plaza because he
was the one potter in town. Lest U.S. Customs officials think
the pots were old and confiscate them, I had brought photos
rather than the pots themselves. When I showed the pictures to
Manuel, he immediately said he could make some pots just like
those. “You don’t understand,” I said, “I’m looking for the
person who made those pots.” “I can make some just like them,”
he said, “maybe better.” “No, you don’t understand ..,” I said.
When we finally got straight about that, we visited. He showed
me his kiln, an ingenious, semi-subterranean affair that he
fired with sawdust which he got free from a nearby lumber yard.
As we spoke, he said something about firing his pots at night.
“At night?”, I asked. “Yes, always at night,” he said,
explaining that the sawdust created a lot of smoke. I got the
image of a neighbor woman hanging out her wash on the line and
what the clouds of smoke might have done to it. Manuel then said
that I might look for my potter in Mata Ortiz, and of course
that’s where I did find Juan Quezada, who said he’d made those
three pots about six months earlier.
I enjoyed visiting with Manuel,
and each time thereafter when I came to Mata Ortiz, I would stop
to see him. About the third or fourth trip, however, I found his
house empty—deserted. With great difficulty, I finally located
him on the far, eastern edge of Nuevo Casas Grandes. “Why did
you move?”, I asked. “Well,” he said, “people began to notice
that the houses around the plaza were starting to turn grey, and
they didn’t know why. One day they found out, and I had to
But now Manuel had developed a
new method of firing that did not require sawdust. Mounted on
four high, metal stilts was a small keg of kerosene, from which
a thin copper tube ran down and into a large drum, which was his
firing chamber. The kerosene, warmed as it descended in the
tube, had vaporized by the time it entered the drum. This
arrangement made an excellent kiln. It was placed about six feet
from his neighbor’s wire fence and was operating as he explained
it to me. Admiringly, I began to walk around it on the side of
his neighbor’s fence. But just as I started, he told me to go
back. Go back? Why? Well, he said, a week earlier, he’d had an
accident, an explosion. It had severely burned his neighbor’s
pig. It had burned the pig so bad, in fact, that the neighbors
were forced to have an unplanned barbecue. Manuel said it was
all right with them now. But on my next visit, I found his house
This time, Manuel had moved to
Casas Grandes, the Pueblo Viejo, outside of town and well away
from neighbors. As the pueblo grew over the next 25 years, a
subdivision enveloped him. But he’d been there first, and this
time he had devised a wholly different kind of kiln, wood-fired,
that served him for the rest of his life. His house is a
distinctive landmark on the left side of the highway leaving
Casas Grandes toward Mata Ortiz, a house with long-legged,
welded metal birds and abstract human figures in the yard,
giant, open bowls painted in Paquimé designs, and a high pilon
of five stacked oil drums, welded together and painted in
alternate bands of red and white.
Manuel’s home became a popular
stop on the schedule of dozens of tour buses every season. He
and his wife, María, developed a winning pottery-making
demonstration. In the back yard of the house, he would explain
and show how he prepared the raw clay, how he made his mineral
pigments, and how he fired pots in the outdoor kiln. Then,
inviting the tour group which often numbered as many as 40
persons into the large studio room in their house set with
chairs, they would sit on a raised platform in the front and
demonstrate pottery-making, María hand-building a pot while
Manuel expertly painted it in traditional Casas Grandes
polychrome style. During this performance, a prehistoric pot was
passed around for each person to take out a numbered piece of
paper, the lucky person winning a free pot made by María and
Manuel. Following this demonstration, Manuel and his son,
Heriberto, would take up their guitars and give a concert,
playing and singing a small repertoire of songs. Finally, they
would invite the group into the sales area of the house where
pottery of the entire family was displayed—and here the buying
Today, a small Elderhostel
group of 16 persons was scheduled to attend Manuel’s and María’s
demonstration. Instead, the bus drove to the velatorio where
Manuel’s wake was in progress. Here the visitors paid their last
respects to María and the family.
Manuel was independent of the
Mata Ortiz tradition. He had learned pottery making from his
grandfather, a potter. But around the time of the revolution,
enameled tin-ware had displaced utilitarian pottery in the
stores in northern Mexico. Manuel hadn’t made pottery for some
decades when, in the early 1970s, it occurred to him to create
some replicas of prehistoric Casas Grandes ceramics. When I met
him a few years later, he would paint a pot with white,
commercial paint after firing, then do the designs, and finally
dirty it up with mud to give it an antique aspect. Unaware of
how it was painted, I washed the first of his pots when I got it
home and was surprised to find it suddenly come out shiny and
bright. On every visit for several years I urged Manuel to
develop a natural, mineral slip colorant like that used by Juan
Quezada, one that he could paint with before firing. He was
inventive and finally did. While I like to feel I can take some
credit, Manuel almost certainly would have done so without my
Manuel loved climbing about and
exploring in the Sierras, looking always for new clays and
penciling many pages of designs from the prehistoric pottery
shards he came across. He made sometimes surprising applications
of the prehistoric designs, such as automobile hub caps and even
the Paquimé-painted toilet seat in his home.
When we first met, Manuel had a
musical group that was popular at bailes, or dances. He once
told me that some of his more regular work was in the red-light
district of Nuevo Casas Grandes, where he provided music for
dances that went on all night until morning. Maria didn’t care
for that, he said, but it was good work. In the morning, he
added, his eyes crinkling with humor, the madam would offer him
part payment in kind. Not that he ever accepted, he said. But
she always offered.
Manuel is survived by his wife,
Maria Prieto, four children, Blanca 37, Teri 34, Flor 32, and
Heriberto 30, and seven grandchildren. The children are skilled
at pottery, some surpassing their father in the quality of their
work. Manuel Olivas was a warm and devoted family person, the
center about which the family life revolved. He is remembered
within his family as cariñoso, a buen abuelo, and alegre (kind
and loving, a good grandfather, and happy). He will live in the
memory of all who knew him.
Casas Grandes, Chihuahua
May 4, 2007
Property Rights in Mata Ortiz
A recent happening in Mata
Ortiz illustrates the pitfalls of buying property in an ejido.
Ejidos are collectives, and Mata Ortiz is one, although the law
allows conversion of sites within an ejido to private property
once a town attains a certain level of infrastructure (water,
sewerage, power, etc.), which Mata Ortiz now has. Ejido property
can be bought and sold, but the tenure is subject to the will of
a council of ejidatarios, so that politicking can run rampant—as
it did in this case. Emi and I live in Casas Grandes, 20 minutes
from Mata Ortiz, and are restoring a number of old adobes near
the plaza. All of the property here is privado, not ejido. We’ve
the best lawyer in this region. He’s not available to help where
ejido property is concerned; he won’t touch it.
This case has Byzantine twists
and turns. Because of its sensitivity, names will be withheld.
The matter began ten years ago, when a member of the ejido of
Mata Ortiz sold a piece of land on the river with great
cottonwoods on it to an American woman, let us say Charlotte, a
teacher who regularly brings groups to Mata Ortiz for language
and cultural immersion. Charlotte built an attractive house on
the land, and when she had groups, she housed them there while
she stayed in an apartment rented from a family in nearby Barrio
Porvenir. For eight years, Charlotte lived happily in her house.
Relations with her neighbors, most notably Francisco, were
harmonious. Francisco had no water to his house, for example,
and Charlotte let him pipe from hers.
Six months ago, a friend of
Francisco who happened also to be the son of the ejido member
who had sold Charlotte her land, suggested that Francisco
re-survey the land. Francisco did so and then claimed that
Charlotte’s title was invalid and the land was his. He said the
person who had sold to Charlotte had bought it from an old man
to whom he himself had sold it and whose claim was not good.
Francisco then began a campaign to get Charlotte off the
property. He agitated the fighting cocks he raised so that they
crowed all during the night, interfering with Charlotte’s
students’ sleep. He threw numerous dead roosters from cockfights
over the fence. Four months later, he strung barbed wire across
her gate and put a padlock on it. Another neighbor, also a
relative of the person who had sold Charlotte the land, cut off
her access to the property so that she had to detour through the
Charlotte made a concerted
effort to restore matters and regain her access, but to no
avail. Twice the council debated the matter. At the first
meeting, a number of the council members favored Charlotte, but
at the second, by a surprise switch, they unanimously came down
on the side of Francisco. The president of the ejido in effect
abstained; he did not attend the second meeting. At neither
meeting did the person who had sold Charlotte the land come
forth to speak or in any way defend her title.
The situation deteriorated to
the point that Charlotte felt compelled to abandon the property.
However, she thought Francisco was poised to move into her house
the moment she removed her furniture. That prospect was
offensive to her, so she decided on a plan. With the help of
neighbors, she would move all of her furnishings out of the
house and everything of value, including roof beams, doors and
windows and their frames, all wiring and plumbing, everything
that she might use when she rebuilt elsewhere. This she would
accomplish in one morning, and in the afternoon, she would bring
in heavy equipment to break up the cement pad and raze the
On the appointed day,
everything went according to plan. Forty to fifty neighbors with
as many as 20 trucks labored all day without pay to help her. In
the afternoon, a cousin of Francisco’s rented her some heavy
equipment and operated it to destroy what remained of the house.
Francisco called the police from Casas Grandes, the seat of the
municipio that includes Mata Ortiz, but with so many people
gathered in support of Charlotte, they were unable to stop the
work. The Jefe del Ministerio Público, who had come with the
police did nothing to hide her anger at the situation. That
evening, Charlotte’s American friends brought food for a
celebration dinner at a Mexican friend’s home to thank everyone
who had helped. During the dinner, the Jefe came and gave notice
that Charlotte would be charged with destroying a house
belonging to Francisco and would be fined $100,000 pesos
(approximately $10,000 dollars).
In the morning, as Charlotte
and a friend, Inez, left Mata Ortiz to drive back to Tucson,
they saw the person who had sold her the land, together with his
son, outdoors leaning against a truck. They thought nothing of
it at the time, but later they wondered if the two had posted
themselves to see what time she left the village. Three more
friends were caravanning with them in a second car. They were
all going to stop and visit with Emi and me in Casas Grandes.
But the police had set up a roadblock where they came into town.
They arrested Charlotte and took her to Nuevo Casas Grandes for
interrogation at the Agencia Estatal de Investigaciones. Inez
drove the car on to our house and notified us. On arriving at
the interrogation center, we found Charlotte and her other
friends, who had elected to stay with her, waiting in a small
room. Francisco’s lawyer was sitting in the hall. Several people
remarked at how uncomfortable he looked. Moments later, he came
into the room and apologized for his role, saying he was only
doing this in the line of his business.
On entering the building, I’d
spoken to a large, fine looking Rottweiler who had let me know
that we were not to be friends. I assumed he belonged to one of
the police. Twenty minutes later, we heard a commotion.
Francisco had arrived, and the Rottweiler had severely bitten
his arm. I watched out the window as the police shot the dog. It
took more than a dozen shots to kill him. No one knew whose dog
In the afternoon, Charlotte’s
caravanning friends went on to Tucson in her car in order to get
it out of the country, leaving their own car for Charlotte and
Inez. When the interrogations were finally over, the police
brought Charlotte back to Casas Grandes and jailed her.
Meanwhile, half-a-dozen people assembled at our house while we
found a lawyer. That done, we walked over to the jail. There we
found some two-dozen people standing vigil outside on the
sidewalk; word had reached Mata Ortiz. The police were courteous
and allowed us to go in and talk with Charlotte through the bars
and even to photograph her through the bars. Her cell had no
chair to sit on, and we were told that friends would have to
bring her food and blankets. When the lawyer arrived to
represent her, one of the first orders was to wash and mop the
floor of Charlotte’s cell. An officer gave her a plastic chair.
Now began an ordeal of waiting.
The vigil outside showed no signs of thinning. Lengthy
depositions were taken. Around mid-afternoon, the Jefe del
Ministerio Público, who had the authority to release or hold her
and who had expressed such annoyance in Mata Ortiz the previous
day, left, saying she would return at six-thirty. She eventually
returned at ten-thirty. Then interminable discussions with the
lawyers for both sides went on behind closed doors. Emi and I
brought blankets and a pillow in case Charlotte had to stay all
night. When we left, it was midnight. Some half-dozen of
Charlotte’s neighbors still stood vigil outside. If released
during the night, Charlotte promised to stop at our house on her
way north so that we would know what had happened.
Charlotte was charged with
damaging property, although it wasn’t clear whose property she
had damaged but her own. It came out that the complaint against
her had been prepared several days earlier. Someone had got wind
of her plan but thought it would take place on May 3rd instead
of the 6th; so the complaint charged Charlotte with demolishing
the house on a day when she was not yet in Mexico. This
discrepancy worked in her favor. Taking the offensive, Charlotte
then pressed charges against Francisco for padlocking her gate.
If she were jailed, Francisco should be too. Accordingly, just
after midnight, the police arrested him and put him in another
cell. Charlotte next let it be known that if she continued to be
held in jail, she would press charges for fraud against the
person from whom she had bought the land. If her title wasn’t
good, his must not have been either.
At two a.m., Charlotte and her
friend knocked at our door. Before her release, $1,500 dollars
had to be paid to Charlotte’s lawyer. She didn’t have such a sum
with her, but three of her Mexican neighbors in Mata Ortiz got
it together in the small hours of the morning and lent it to
her. Charlotte was told the whole matter was settled and the
land was now hers to do with as she wished. Title papers would
be sent to her in a few days. How ironic! My interpretation of
that surprising turn of events is that the authorities wanted to
protect the person who had sold her the land from a charge of
fraud and possible imprisonment, and the way to do this was to
validate Charlotte’s title. Notice that with ejido land, there
seems to be no consideration of fundamental property rights; it
all seems to be a game of politics.
Charlotte has many friends in
Mata Ortiz and no thought of leaving. But once the house was
gone, she wanted nothing more to do with that particular
property. And here enters another irony. After the demolition,
she had planned to quitclaim to Francisco any interest she might
still have and thus help to bring the village back together
again. But the arrest and imprisonment changed her mind. She
would keep the land and do nothing with it. I offered a
suggestion: she could donate it to a worthy cause in the village
such as Unidos por Mata Ortiz, the organization that worked to
build the library and is now looking to undertake other
projects, or Pilo Mora’s foundation, Comité de Asistencia
Pro-Salud de Alfareros de Mata Ortiz, which he has set up to
assist aging potters and their families who might be in need.
We shall probably never know
what was at the bottom of this land dispute, but several things
stand out. Francisco is poor, without resources to re-survey the
land, never mind to retain a high-priced attorney to harass
Charlotte, with whom he had been on quite friendly terms for
eight years. Someone else had to be behind it. The son of the
person from whom Charlotte bought the land is a longtime friend
of Francisco’s and has resources. Could he have prompted
Francisco to claim the land, wanting it for himself? That might
explain the father, who sold the property to Charlotte, not
having come forth to assist her in any way. He would have been
supporting his son’s ambitions. But then, why would the son go
to such lengths to get that piece of land, and what was in it
for Francisco? Well, it’s good bottom land for crops or cattle,
and it’s rumored the son wanted to build a spa (balneario)
there. He might have promised his friend, Francisco, the house,
never dreaming Pamela would demolish it. On the other hand, does
the son know something other people don’t?
Whoever Charlotte donates the land to might be well
advised not to sell it immediately, but to wait and see what may
be in the wind.
Some twenty Americans live
part-time in Mata Ortiz in homes they have built or refurbished.
Some are wondering how secure their tenure is in a collective
where there is no equivalent of fee simple ownership, but all
discretion resides in a council. They are not alone; Mexicans
are concerned as well, and this case has brought their concern
to the fore. Within the past eight months, I’ve chanced to hear
of two other cases where an individual claimed that someone
else’s tenure was defective and he could take the property.
Fortunately, a number of titles in Mata Ortiz have been
converted to privado, and this trend will probably continue. The
state must favor such conversions, because private land can be
Postscript: This question of
property rights in an ejido interests me especially because of
the parallels I have found with common-interest developments in
the United States organized under a homeowners’ association. For
anyone interested, I’ve a forthcoming article on market
alternatives to the manifold problems of common-interest
development and will email copies on request. See Critical
Review : An Interdisciplinary Journal of Politics and Society
Rest in Peace,
Querida Tia Chu
Doña María de Jesús Celado
Saenz, affectionately known as “Tia Chu,” was Juan Quezada’s
maternal aunt and the last of the generation that had migrated
from southern Chihuahua to Mata Ortiz. Tia Chu died February
15th, age 94, two months after her partner of 56 years,
Cristóbal Hernández Márquez (“Tobal”). Chu and Tobal were a
special couple, and Emi and I want to use this space to share
some of our memories of them.
Tobal was accomplished as a
mountain man. He had lived in the Sierras, working in sawmills
and a distillery. He was skilled at distilling sotol, the
native, fiery “white lightning” of Chihuahua. For many years, he
tilled his own labor (field) in Mata Ortiz. Tobal accompanied
the Quezadas in my little Datsun truck when we traveled down to
Tutuaca and San Lorenzo, where the family had migrated from many
years before, to re-establish long-lost contact with their
relatives. On the way, we camped for a mid-day meal in the hills
near the road, and Tobal and Juan’s father, Don José, expertly
built a fire and threw steaks on it. Then they reminisced, Tobal
about his years in the Sierras, and Don José about how, as a
young man, he would lead strings of horses along our same route,
selling and trading as he went. Instead of our few hours on the
new highway, his trips had taken him weeks.
Chu and Tobal lived simply.
Instead of spoons or forks, they still used tortillas in the
traditional way, deftly pinching one piece into a scoop and
using another as a pusher, the scoop and contents becoming a
mouthful while the pusher becomes the next scoop, and so forth.
Theirs was the last house on the right, approaching the cemetery
from Mata Ortiz. Out of respect for her age and because of our
affection for her, Emi and I always made it a point to stop
first at their house when we arrived in the village. We would
often take a can of coffee. The house was simple and small, with
a little porch and lots of flowers, almost Disneyesque. Here at
their kitchen table she would serve Emi coffee and me hot
Occasionally Chu would make
some little pots, lumpy, ungainly things, little bigger than a
walnut. Emi and I and sometimes other visitors would buy some of
them because of who Chu was, but there was little demand for
them. The only really successful marketing venture was the time
that Mickey Vanderwagen, a third-generation Southwest Indian
trader (his grandfather founded the first trading post in Zuni
Pueblo in the late 1800s), bought all that she had—several
dozen—and at a grandiose Indian show on the East Coast displayed
them on a separate table. On the table with the display of the
pots stood a large portrait of Tia Chu, then in her early 90s.
The lumpy little pots sold out immediately.
Chu and Tobal were poor by
conventional standards. Though nearing 80, Tobal still supported
them from his labor (field), which yielded them some beans and
corn. Lydia Quezada, youngest sister of Juan and Chu’s niece,
wanted to help her aunt in some way but didn’t know how without
offending her. Then she got an idea. It would require the help
of trader Steve Rose, who lived in the village. But because of
the sensitivity of the situation, Lydia waited a year before
broaching the idea. She waited until I could be present to help
translate so that there would be no possible misunderstanding.
This was her plan: Each and every month, she would pay Steve
twenty dollars for him to use to buy four of Tia Chu’s pots at
five dollars each. Steve agreed, and the arrangement worked
smoothly for some years. One day, about a year into the
arrangement, Emi and I were visiting, having coffee and hot
chocolate at Chu and Tobal’s kitchen table. Suddenly Chu put on
a puzzled expression and asked me, “Why does Steve always buy
just four pots from me? Why doesn’t he ever buy more?” I kept a
perfectly straight face and said I had no idea.
One day five or six years ago,
I stopped in at Chu and Tobal’s house alone. Emi wasn’t with me,
and Tobal was away working in his labor. Chu wanted to unburden
herself of something, and as she spoke, tears came to her eyes.
She said Tobal wouldn’t marry her. After more than fifty years
of being together, he wasn’t ready to marry. I commiserated the
best I could. Her sadness weighed on me, and a few days later I
asked Lydia if she thought it would be appropriate for me to
have a “man-to-man” talk with Tobal about this matter that meant
so much to Chu. Lydia thought that would be a fine thing to do.
She said I could tell Tobal that the family would pay all the
expenses. There wouldn’t be a centavo left for him to pay. So I
went back and found Chu and Tobal both at home. But how could I
talk with Tobal in front of Chu? So I said to Tobal, “I’ve never
seen your labor; would you show it to me?” His face and eyes
shone. Tobal was enormously proud of his labor, and this was
evidently the first time anyone had ever asked to see it. I felt
like a worm for having asked him under false pretenses to take
me to his labor. Nevertheless we went, and it was a fine labor,
a tract of good bottomland about ten minutes from the house,
near the cottonwood trees lining the Palanganas River. We talked
out the matter thoroughly, but Tobal said the relationship had
gone well for many years, and he didn’t want to change anything
Another time, Chu became ill
and had the unaccustomed and frightening experience of being
taken to a hospital. She recuperated a few days in her niece’s
home, Genoveva (sister of Lydia and Juan), in Casas Grandes. Emi
and I went to visit, and the family, gathered in the front of
the house, said we would find her in a bedroom. We went back
and, finding a door open, entered. There on the bed were Tobal
and Chu, fully dressed and laid out straight, side by side, like
cordwood. Their eyes were closed, and to all appearances they
were waiting and expecting to die. When we spoke and Chu saw who
we were, she said in a barely audible voice, “The next time we
visit will be in the panteón (cemetery).” A few weeks later, Emi
and I were in the area again and called on Chu and Tobal in
their little house. There was Chu sweeping off the porch. We
said in pretended surprise, “Tia Chu, we went to the panteón to
see you—but you weren’t there!” At that, Tobal laughed and said,
“No llegaron los boletos” (the tickets didn’t arrive).
Last November, with Jon and
Charmayne Samuelson, we stopped for the last time and found
Tobal ill, unable to stand without pain and unable to care for
Chu. As he greeted us, Jon asked permission to take his picture.
It was the last picture ever taken of him. Tobal was taken to be
cared for by family in Chihuahua City, but shortly returned and
was admitted to the hospital in Nuevo Casas Grandes, where he
died a few days later. I regretted that I hadn’t thought to
broach once more, man-to-man, on his deathbed, the possibility
of his marrying Chu.
The circumstances of Tobal’s
death underscore the mystery of life. Tia Chu had been taken
home to be cared for by Juan’s sisters, Lydia, Genoveva, and
Rosa, rotating two or three weeks at a time in the home of each.
Death came for Tobal at about 8 p.m. on December 10th. Since
Rosa was caring for Tia Chu at the time, the hospital phoned her
the news. Rose then called Lydia and asked her to bring Genoveva
in the morning so that together they could break the news to
their Tia Chu. When Rosa went into Chu’s room in the morning,
however, she found her shaking. Chu said that it was only
nerves. Then she asked, “Tobal died last night. Isn’t that
right?” Rosa said, “Yes—how
did you know?” “He was here with me. He held my hand.”
Rosa then called Lydia to say there was no need to come, that
Chu knew and was taking it well. Lydia asked, “Who told her?”
“No one,” Rosa said. “She told us.”
Chu was tired. Without her
companion of 56 years, she was ready to die. So she shut her
eyes and waited for death to come. Her nieces called the priest.
On arriving at the house, the priest looked at Chu and said,
“Bring her some atole” (a thick, nourishing, corn drink). Rosa
brought the cup of atole—whereupon Chu opened her eyes and had
Two weeks ago, our phone rang
at four in the morning. It was Lydia, calling from her home in
Nuevo Casas Grandes. When she heard my voice, she was startled
and apologized, saying she was calling Rosa in Mata Ortiz and
had mistakenly dialed our number. (A day later, she said that
she’d made a mistake, but God hadn’t.) Tia Chu seemed to be
dying, she said, and the family thought they should move her to
a hospital; Lydia was going out to Mata Ortiz to help arrange
the transport. After Lydia hung up, Emi said we should get
dressed and go out too.
We drove out under the stars
and got to Rosa’s before Lydia. On the way there, Emi had
expressed her strong feeling that Chu should die at home and not
in the strange environment of a hospital. Someone would have to
stay with her at the hospital in any case, and it might be days
or a week. Because family members might be reluctant to suggest
they keep Tia Chu at home and deny her whatever a hospital might
offer, Emi thought it might be up to her, an outsider and a
nurse practitioner, to say it. I’d teased Emi lightly that she
might have taken her stethoscope mainly to reinforce the nurse
image. The gathered family did take Emi’s suggestion. Because
Rosa was exhausted from her two-weeks stint, with little sleep
because of Chu’s nighttime restlessness, it was agreed to move
Chu by ambulance to Lydia’s house in Nuevo Casas Grandes. Emi
said someone should stay with Chu at all times by turns, and
volunteered that she and I would take the first shift, starting
right away. So here was a plan. The ambulance was called, and
all but Emi and I retired to the kitchen to work out a schedule
of shifts for the next week involving a large number of the
During these several hours, Chu
had shown little ability to respond, the death rattle sounding
in her throat as members of the family spoke in her right ear
(that being her best ear), fervently praying to God to take her
and earnestly imploring her to repent her sins so that He would
do so. The ambulance arrived, and the attendants lifted Chu onto
a gurney and the gurney into the ambulance. As they did so, Emi
called out a farewell to Chu and waved. Chu opened her eyes and
managed to bring a hand out from under her blanket. Weakly but
gallantly, she waved back at her.
Chu died that evening. In the
morning, Emi brought to the mortuary in Nuevo Casas Grandes
Tobal’s last photo, which Chu had never seen. Emi had mounted it
in a simple folder and now set it on the viewing glass of the
casket. That afternoon, the Mass for Chu in the Church of San
Antonio in Casas Grandes struck me as one of the most beautiful
services I’d ever witnessed, and I so wished Chu could have seen
it. Following the Mass, the body was taken to the panteón in
Mata Ortiz and lowered into the grave. We noted that the photo
of Tobal went with her. From that grave site on the hill, we
could almost see Tia Chu’s and Tobal’s little house, the last
house on the road before reaching the panteón.
Guest Editorial: Pilo Mora and the Silent Auction
Greetings my friends in the
Mata Ortiz family. It was an honor to be asked to write about my
experience at the ninth annual Gathering of Traders and Friends
of Mata Ortiz and to have an opportunity to become a part of
your world. During
my visit to Mata Ortiz, after years of hearing about you, I was
able at last to meet and interact with many of you. My name is
Santiago Garfias Turok. My mother, Marta Turok Wallace, has been
a part of the community for some time.
Among many highlights of this
meeting, one event stood out that I would like to write about
for those who could not attend. That was the Silent Auction
organized by the great master potter Pilo Mora. At the Saturday
afternoon session, Pilo said that he had something important to
say. He wanted us to know that he was starting a fund for those
of the pioneering, first-generation artisans, now in their
declining years, who may be troubled by poor health or other
difficulties. Their friends are concerned for them. Pilo wanted
to do something for these great masters for all they had given
in the way of early teaching and experimentation and for their
personal example in the village. He thought an organization of
some kind could be established to assist by funding special
programs in the local clinic, setting up some form of popular
insurance, or in other ways.
Pilo volunteered a piece of his
own work to start things off and asked the meeting how he might
go about selling or auctioning it. After several suggestions,
the decision was made to hold a silent auction during the rest
of the afternoon and at the dinner Pilo would host for everyone
at his home that evening. A certain happiness pervaded the room.
One of the great ones had taken the initiative to help others in
the community who had contributed in fundamental ways to its
success and were now facing hard times.
At this point, three more
leading potters offered to donate pieces— Efraín Lucero, Macario
Ortiz, and Lila Silveira. They unhesitatingly joined the cause
and left the meeting to bring their pots from home. While they
were gone, some of the traders and visitors stood up and made
cash donations. They thanked Pilo and said how much they were
giving, and each received an ovation. As the meeting continued
through the rest of the afternoon, people quietly made their way
to the back of the room where the donated pots were, to place a
The gathering concluded with a
presentation by Walter Parks on what is known of the life of
Juan Mata Ortiz, the Apache Indian fighter for whom the village
is named. Everyone then retired to the Mata Ortiz public library
for a short dedication ceremony. A bronze plaque commemorated
all those who had helped. Prominent among those was the Mata
Ortiz Foundation, a tax-exempt organization the traders had
formed at one of the early Gatherings.
And now it was party time! Pilo
and his wife Delia served a wonderful dinner to more than 50
people in their new home. A wonderful warmth and sense of
friendship filled the house. At ten to eight, it was announced
that the auction was finalizing; anyone wanting to be the lucky
owner of one of these beautiful pieces should make his way to
the sheets and put in his final bid. As the bidding concluded, I
was given the signal honor of acting as master of ceremonies. I
named all the generous people who had made a cash donation and,
after a few words from Pilo Mora, announced the winners.
James D. Fox, a newcomer to the
Mata Ortiz family, was the high bidder on Pilo’s pot. This was
his first pot ever, and he was excited. But his luck continued,
as he turned out to be the lucky bidder on Macario Ortiz’s pot
as well. Mr. Fox thanked us for this chance to take part in a
great cause. Everyone agreed he had made two beautiful
In the end the total came to an
incredible $1,750 dollars. Looking at Pilo, it was obvious that
he felt good about all that had just happened. He had asked for
help and had received more than expected.
In conclusion, I would like to
say that, as in any community, many things are needed in Mata
Ortiz. Some are being taken care of, thanks in no small part to
the many dedicated people who have immersed themselves in the
greatness and mysticism of this little community. From my first
exhilarating experience in this place, I am left with an immense
satisfaction and a sense of home. This will certainly not be my
last visit. If given the chance, I would like to take part in
many other activities—such as this space that Spencer and Emi
To all of you, thank you. I
trust I made a good impression and lived up to all the things my
mom has said of me. To Walter, thank you for the warm welcome
and for the opportunity to help translate. With this I say
goodbye. Let this not be the last you hear of me!
Santiago Garfias Turok
EDITORS’ NOTE: Pilo More has
formed an organization, Comité de Asistencia Pro-Salud de
Alfareros de Mata Ortiz, opened a bank account, engaged the
services of an auditor, and made meticulous accounting (as
meticulous as his work on his fine pottery) of contributions.
The initial officers (himself, Porfirio Mora Villalba,
President; Efraín Lucero Andrew, Secretary; and Silvia Silveira
Sandoval, Treasurer) are working out a mission statement and
procedural rules. Financial contributors who donated at the
Gathering are Kate Bauer, Blanca Chinolla, Curtis Dinwiddie, Jan
Kojev, Claude Smith, Santiago Garfias Turok, and Margie Wallace.
At the silent auction, William E. Zidbeck won both Efraín
Lucero’s and Lila Silveira’s pots. Disbursements to date have
included a contribution to the funeral expenses of Felix Ortiz
and medical consultations for a broken leg suffered by Chevo
May 22, 1937—July 25, 2005
Tom Fresh was a major early
player in the Mata Ortiz phenomenon. He introduced Mata Ortiz to
Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA) and Walter
Parks to Mata Ortiz. He stepped to the bat and helped to
maintain the momentum and continuity after Spencer took an
extended leave of absence from the project in 1983. For the next
decade, in close collaboration with Walter Parks, Tom was Juan
Quezada’s outstanding friend and mentor. Now, after a long and
debilitating illness, he has found his rest. May his spirit stay
with us always. For those who did not have the opportunity to
know Tom, Walt offers us a sketch of the man he knew so well:
One day in the meadow at
Idyllwild Arts, Tom Fresh told the children in his class that
they were going to build a yellow submarine.
They glued together strips of yellow plastic into a large
elongated balloon, painted the appropriate detail, filled it
with helium, and marched through the town, the balloon flying
high, singing the Beatles’ tune at the top of their lungs. Each
kid had a paper mirror stuck on his forehead. Why? Because if
you were a kid and met Tom that summer, he stuck a mirror on
That was Tom in the 1960s, a
wacky teacher, who lived in a teepee, surrounded by a multitude
of kids ready for the next wacky art project.
In the 70s, he built a geodesic
dome in the desert and among other things tried to fire clay
with an elaborate solar kiln made of mirrors.
In the process, he found some very good clay. One summer
he traded a bag of it to the famous Indian potter María Martínez
for a place in her class at Idyllwild Arts.
He met other Indian artists, became their friends,
learned their techniques, and from this beginning ultimately
became the director of a growing Native American Arts program at
It was at Tom’s suggestion that
Spencer brought Juan Quezada to the campus in 1982.
Tom and Juan became good friends.
Tom was fluent in Spanish, having wandered around Cuba,
Spain, and Mexico as a young man, hanging out and painting in
water colors. Over
the next nine years, Tom brought Juan, Nicolás, Reynaldo,
Taurina Baca, and other Mata Ortiz potters to Idyllwild.
They met the Indian artists, and the Indians met them,
producing interesting cross-cultural results as they worked and
socialized together under Tom’s laid-back direction. For
example, two Acoma Pueblo potters now use a hacksaw blade to
scrape the outside of their pots, a trick they learned from
Meanwhile, Tom bought an old
homestead in a canyon near Idyllwild. He lived in the old cabin
and built a hogan for his visitors.
Eventually he turned the property over to a Zen Buddhist
organization but continued to live in the cabin until his health
failed. He became
ill in 1995 just after closing the art gallery he had started
after leaving Idyllwild Arts in 1991.
After years, including time in a convalescent home, he
was diagnosed as having celiac disease, an illness where the
body has an aversion to wheat and other gluten products.
His weight dropped to less than 125 pounds.
However, in the fall of 2002, he was well enough to move
to a village called San Francisco, locally referred to as “San
Pancho,” north of Puerto Vallarta.
An old Idyllwild friend and retired forest ranger, Frank
Smith, looked after him until last February, when Frank and
Tom’s two children moved him to a private home in Ojai,
Sunday, July 24, he collapsed. His caretaker took him to the
hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
He went to sleep in a hospital room and never awakened.
Tom introduced me and many
others to Mata Ortiz, to the joys of art, and to the joy of
living life to the fullest.
He was one a kind. After meeting Tom, you marched on with
a mirror stuck to your forehead.
A memorial for Tom will be held in Idyllwild CA on August
19th. See “Scheduled Events” under that date for details.
The MacCallums in Casas Grandes
(Emi chides me that this
month’s editorial is a shameless advertisement of Casas Grandes
and what we’re doing. Well, so be it. Casas Grandes is our new
Welcome to the reactivated Mata
Ortiz Calendar of Events in its debut as a web site. Apologies
for letting the Calendar falter this past year while we were
busy selling our home in Nevada, moving our earthly possessions,
and settling into our new home here in Casas Grandes. Making a
web site was also new territory for us and easily put off,
especially as we became heavily involved in an unexpected
project—buying and restoring four old adobe homes near the plaza
here in Casas Grandes.
First we bought an old ruin of
a house with twelve-and-a-half-foot ceilings and two-foot-thick
walls, but then got cold feet and almost put it back on the
market. What did we know about adobe restoration? But we lucked
into an extraordinary contractor, Luís Tena, who knows and is
interested in traditional ways of construction. Work moved ahead
better and faster that we had dreamed possible. So when a
neighbor asked if we would buy his old house and Luís was
willing to help, we went ahead. Now, little more than a year
later, we’ve almost finished restoring/renovating four old
homes, staying true to the old style, which Emi calls “Rural
Our rationalization for such
fun? Anticipating that the day may be fast approaching when U.S.
citizens will be blocked from taking assets out of the country,
we brought our retirement savings here. What to do with them?
Believing Casas Grandes has strong tourism potential, we thought
well-selected mud might perform as well or better than gold. So,
we began buying it up—old adobe mud in Casas Grandes. Our plan
six or eight years down the road is to sell the houses,
hopefully for a capital gain. Meanwhile, to hold our investment
and realize some income to live on, we’ll furnish and rent them,
mostly to visiting Americans. So that’s our gamble. Now that the
houses are about done, we’re hunting vintage furnishings for
The last house we bought was so
little changed since the mid-1800s that we want to preserve it
as a museum that will show how people lived before the
revolution. We’ll have no electricity; lighting will be by
kerosene lamps. Local people are lending some furniture and
fascinating memorabilia. The house features a large,
semi-subterranean, secret room, the only one in town, said to
have been built expressly to hide women and children in the
event of Apache attack. As a footnote to such a possibility, we
learned that the church bell in the nineteenth century gave
warning of an impending attack. So how did the padre call his
flock to mass on Sundays? For many years, he called them with a
large, wooden, ratchet noisemaker.
As far as a place to live, our
adopted town meets most of our needs We’re four hours from El
Paso’s medical resources but have several good hospitals only
ten minutes away in Nuevo Casas Grandes (70,000 population). We
have DSL Internet connection and, for $25/month through
VoicePulse.com, can make unlimited calls anywhere in the United
States and Canada.
Casas Grandes is the head of
the municipio of Casas Grandes, largest in Mexico, which takes
in Mata Ortiz. Founded in 1661, it has both historic depth and
cultural breadth. Here is where the Revolution of 1910 began,
and rumor has it that it was plotted two years before the event
in our “museum house” by eight men whom the federales later
intercepted and imprisoned off the coast of Veracruz. Casas
Grandes counts among its attractions one of the more important
archaeological ruins (Paquimé) in North America, a world-class
museum, cliff dwellings and rock-art sites, proximity to Mata
Ortiz (or we wouldn’t be here), a ruined Spanish mission, and
all of this close to the United States. It lies on the shortest
route between Los Angeles and Guadalajara (yes, shorter than the
coastal route), and the planned extension of the Mata Ortiz road
to Madera will give direct access to the Copper Canyon. Casas
Grandes’ cultural life is reflected in its up-coming, annual
multi-cultural festival, July 1-10 (see under “Scheduled
So while this will always be
the Mata Ortiz Calendar of Events, its focus, now that we are
living here, will inevitably be larger. Emi and I have made
Casas Grandes our home. Our door is open to any who care to
visit, and we’re easy to find. One block past the main plaza,
turn right onto Avenida Victoria. You’ll find us at the end of
the second block, on the left—a corner house obscured by a
vine-covered iron fence and a small orchard of quince and pecan
Changes in the Village
Mata Ortiz is rapidly changing.
The new paved road has only two more miles to go to reach the
village. There are now more than 200 telephones, which will be
published in the phone book next year. (Until then the Calendar
keeps an up-to-date listing and will email it free upon
request). An entrepreneurial spirit seems to have flooded the
community during the summer. Jorge Quintana’s excellent new food
market opened July 31st with good produce and fresh cuts of meat
at Nuevo Casas Grandes prices. Two new restaurants have
opened—the Caporal and the Trevizo, the latter with Noé
Quezada’s large art
gallery upstairs. Eduardo Martinez’ new rodeo arena is
operating. Current movies are screened on weekends in the Salón
de Actos. Lencho Sanchez has opened a car wash near Jorge
Quintana’s art gallery by the church. Macario’s art gallery is
under construction at his home in Porvenir, and the Quezada
family’s two new galleries, one in Juan’s home and the other
above the Trevizo Restaurant, opened this summer. Debi Flanigan
is remodeling her home to accommodate more than a hundred
day-visitors a week from Grand Circle Travel for lunch and a
pottery firing demonstration. Chevo Ortega Moreno aspires to
develop an RV park at his rancho in Barrio Porvenir. Israel
Rentería and Oscar Trevizo have gone on-line with Mata Ortiz’
first web sites, www.mataortizpotterysale.com and
All of these changes come to
mind casually, without any systematic research of the subject.
Carl Socolow has begun photographing the village to record the
changes the new road will bring over the next few years for a
photo-journalism study that will become the basis for a book.
Meanwhile, as mentioned last month, the diversification into
silver jewelry is slowly but surely putting down its roots. All
of this will enhance the tourism potential which is already
assured by the growing recognition Paquimé as one of the most
important archaeological sites of North America; by the presence
of the small but world-class Museum of Northern Cultures; and by
the convenient proximity of these things to the United States.
What a contrast with 25 years ago, when Mata Ortiz was on its
way to becoming a ghost town. Today, young people of Mata Ortiz
are attending universities in both the United States and Mexico
and becoming bilingual. The beauty of this is that the art of
Mata Ortiz, which perhaps more than any other single thing
jump-started all of this transformation, continues to evolve and
grow in quality. Nowhere in the world, in any period of history,
has hand-built pottery achieved the technical level it has
reached here. There is no indication that it has yet peaked.
Where is it going from here? Isn’t it intriguing, also, that all
of this florescence has happened spontaneously, without any
government involvement other than the road now nearing
completion. Surely, Walter Parks was prescient in titling his
book, now approaching its seventh printing, The Miracle of Mata
One reason for this letter is
to stimulate speculation on what changes may occur as new roads
come into Mara Ortiz. As those who visit Mata with any frequency
know, pavement via two roads will reach the village sometime
early in 2004. A new, paved route will turn south before Colonia
Juarez and proceed straight into Mata Ortiz. There is some
speculation that this will be a toll road. The second paved
route will more or less follow the existing road from Colonia
Juarez, connecting to the new road just east of Cuauhtemoc.
A bigger reason for writing is
to respond to the many visitors and other tour leaders we have
talked with in the village recently, all of whom seem to think
the paved roads will ruin Mata.
There is little doubt that
easier access will bring changes, and when we love something the
way it is, it is natural for us to want it to stay that way.
Without a doubt, the perceived remoteness the dirt road
has given the village has added to its charm and magic.
We don't sell pots; we sell the
village. Certainly the ceramic revolution is what first draws
people to the area, but what brings them back again and again
are the people, their culture, and the colorful history of the
area. These things will not change with the introduction of
We have been exposing people to
the Mata Ortiz experience since the mid 1990s, and now we have a
small house in the village. Between tours for the Arizona Sonora
Desert Museum and our caravan trips, we have visited the village
on almost a monthly basis for the past three years. Nearly every
trip has had some repeat visitors.
It is not likely that they are returning just to ride in
on the dirt road!
Any tour leader has probably
explained to his groups how Juan Quezada and the new ceramic
industry has saved the village becoming a ghost town. The influx
of money has made it possible for the villagers to purchase
vehicles and improve their homes. Pavement is a natural
progression of this economic boom.
We hear from other tour leaders
that they fear an improved road will bring hoards of people,
including many “ugly” Americans. However, we doubt the number of
independent visitors will rise significantly. In our experience,
what prevents people from coming is not the poor road. More
often, it is their irrational fear of traveling into Mexico. We
may see large bus tours, but as it is now, they won’t be able to
stay overnight. This too may change in the future.
Let’s consider the potentially
good aspects of the pavement from the locals’ viewpoint.
More visitors will mean more income, especially for the
lesser-known potters. Faster access to emergency medical
services will likely prove to be invaluable. Public
transportation may improve to the point that parents seeking
higher education for their children no longer have to move away
from the village. Vehicle maintenance should lessen. With a
little thought, we’re sure you can add to this list.
We want to encourage those of
you who expose newcomers to Mata Ortiz to continue to stress
your real reason for coming—which is the people.
Don’t tell them they should have been here in the good
old days when it was really hard to reach the village, since
they are here now!
Of course, for the purist, you can still bring your groups into
Mata on a dirt road via Madero. But we bet you don’t.
Ron & Sue Bridgemon , Tucson,
The Mata Ortiz art movement is gaining more fine
recognition. On March 25th, Juan Quezada was awarded by the
Chihuahua legislature (Congreso del Estado) the "Patrimonio del
Estado" award. This prestigious award, modeled after the
Japanese concept of a "national treasure," is unique in Mexico
and was created specially for Juan Quezada, its first recipient.
Meanwhile in the United States, Michael Wisner, of Anderson
Ranch in Snowmass, Colorado, protégé and colleague of Juan
Quezada for 14 years and a leading technologist and artist in
the field of Southwest and Mata Ortiz ceramics, has been awarded
a National Endowment for the Arts grant, sponsored by the
Colorado Council on the Arts, for the year 31 March 2003 – 31
On another subject, Vern
Hensler last month contributed a short piece on the "fireclouds"
that sometimes appear on a pot when it's fired outdoors in the
natural way. Mata Ortiz potters go along with most Southwest
Indian potters in trying to avoid fireclouds and will often
re-fire a pot to get rid of them. The Hopi, on the other hand,
like them, as do the Japanese, who are among the world's finest
ceramists. Collectors vary, some accepting them and some not.
It's a personal preference. Emi and I have always liked them
(and the poetry of the name) if they don't distract from the
decoration of the pot. If it were not considered a blemish so
long as it did not distract from the painting, it would relieve
some of the pressure on potters doing outdoor firings. It's an
interesting subject, and we'd welcome views on the subject in
our Letters to the Editors.
A European Tour in 2005?
Virginia Gift started the ball rolling. An American
writer living in Paris who has a home in Mata Ortiz with a
wonderful view of the river and the mountains, Virginia is
working on arranging a gallery show of Mata Ortiz art in Paris
as a first step toward a museum exhibition there. Virginia's
efforts led serendipitously to discussions of an idea that may
merge with hers or proceed independently, namely, a European
tour in 2005, with a first-rate catalog, of approximately 70
pieces from private collections of the finest work Juan Quezada
has ever done. A major museum in this country has indicated
interest in being the sponsoring institution, showing the
exhibition either at the beginning or the end of the tour, and
handling shipping to and from Europe. The European museums would
only bear the transportation costs within Europe.
Emi and I believe this would be
a dramatic way to introduce the art of Mata Ortiz to Europe.
We've tentative contacts in France, Germany and Spain and are
looking for more. So this is a call to readers of the Calendar
to call or email us if you have contacts in the art world in
Europe, or have friends with such contacts, or simply have good
ideas. As they say on Public Radio, "The lines are open;" let us
hear from you!!
-Spencer and Emi.