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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.)

1.  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.

2.  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.)

3.  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.)  

4.  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 problems.

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 page.

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 the Calendar’s 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

January 2016

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 Calendar’s facebook 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 you think?

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

October 2015

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 January. Editors)

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.

 1.  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 extensions.  Sr. 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.

•completed form

•original sticker

•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 car

•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 return.

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.  Editors.)

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 Mata Ortiz.  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 income-generating projects.

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.

July 2015

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 own.

 

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.

Spencer MacCallum

Casas Grandes, Chihuahua

May 12, 2015

 

April 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!

Jim Bruemmer

 

Letter to the Editors

October 2014

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 resources.”

Steve Rose

LETTER TO THE EDITORS

July 2014

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 Calendar.)

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.

Dick Ryan

 

January 2014

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 loved them.

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.

Carmela Wallace

[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: http://www.akronoticias.com/?s=arboles+rio+casas+grandes&x=11&y=13.  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 alex.lebaron@conagua.com. Check out the following video for more information:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzDEuD4C0fg –Eds.]

                                                                         

April 2013

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.

Jim Hills

 

January 2013

Dear Editor,

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 immediately alarmed.  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, Spencer's X-wife.  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 of investment.

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.

Hills: Yeah

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 no doubt.

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 research.

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

Prescott, AZ

 

October 2012

In Praise of El Presidente

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 Saenz.

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 achievements.

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 making did.

 

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 talent indeed.

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.

Steve Rose

 

July 2012

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 Ortiz.

As an amateur historian, I am appalled that 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.

Ron Bridgemon

April 2012

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 Hearts)

 

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 these despensas.  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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsma3zn5Tf4. You can watch a video of the scholarship program at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YgQlfycRkc&feature=relmfu.

Corazones Alegres is currently seeking non-profit status in both the United States and Mexico. For more information, contact Daniel Acosta, president of the organization, at azulpaco145[at]hotmail.com. Daniel is pictured below.

 

Mata Ortiz Grupo Siete AC

 

Acclaimed Mata 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).

January 2012

 

The Village Needs You!

 

The economic 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.

 

Fortunately, many 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!

September, 2011

Changing of the Guard - Words from Your New Editors

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. Their 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 Calendar.  We 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 Calendar.

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.  With timely 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 editors.

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 http://mohs.walrus.dnsdojo.net/social.

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.

Ron Bridgemon      Sue Bridgemon

June, 2011

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.

 It 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 sm[at]look.net, 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 area.

So who will take up the work? We’re fortunate that Ron and Sue Bridgemon, who have long brought caravan tours to the area (among the finest tours, incidentally!), have volunteered for the task and will be helped by others such as Walter Parks, author of the classic, The Miracle of Mata Ortiz — of which a revised edition is scheduled for release in October. Ron and Sue will publish the Calendar quarterly, starting in September—and they appeal for help from all the readership by notifying them especially of any pottery events they hear of occurring in the United States. There are many such events, and the potters are not good at keeping us informed. Ron and Sue will certainly take the Calendar in new directions, perhaps a more attractive format with links and photographs, something we were never technically up to. They live in Tucson at 4545 W. Flying Diamond, Tucson AZ 85742; home 520-744-2243, mobile 520-405-8357, Mex mobile 636-102-0102; email:  sbridgemon[at]q.com.

 

Ron is a specialist in the history of the Mexican revolution of 1910, and he and Sue authored last year, with Russ and Jan Diers and John and Katie Iverson, The Magnetism of Mata Ortiz (www.magnetismofmataortiz.com). This book by six people deeply knowledgeable about the Casas Grandes region includes a guide to interesting places to visit from Janos to El Willy, a section on new potters since publication of The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz, and other important material. (There is so little overlap, incidentally, with the other important book published last year, John Bezy and Stuart Scott’s Mata Ortiz Artistry and History that Emi and I have to say each book is incomplete without the other. There is, for example, only a 6% overlap among the 40-odd potters featured in each of the two books.)

 

We know our child, The Mata Ortiz Calendar of Events, will be in good hands.  —Spencer and Emi

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May, 2007

MANUEL OLIVAS, R.I.P  (1940-2007)

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 move.”

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 empty—deserted.

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 would begin.

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 urging.

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.

Spencer MacCallum

Casas Grandes, Chihuahua

May 4, 2007

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June, 2006

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 riverbed.

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 house.

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 it was.

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 taxed.

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  Vol.17 Nos.3-4.

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March, 2006

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 chocolate.

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 about it.

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 some.

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 family.

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.

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January, 2006

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 bid.

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 acquisitions.

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 offered me.

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 Ortiz.

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August, 2005

Tom Fresh                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 your forehead. 

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 Idyllwild Arts.

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 Juan.

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, California.  On 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.

 

Walter Parks

 

N.B.  A memorial for Tom will be held in Idyllwild CA on August 19th. See “Scheduled Events” under that date for details.

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June, 2005

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 home.)

 

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 Chihuahua Rustic.”

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 them.

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 Events”).

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 trees.

 

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August, 2004

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 www.quezadaoriginalsite.com.

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 Ortiz.

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December, 2003

Pavement!

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 paved roads.

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, Arizona

 

520-744-2243

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April, 2003

 

 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 March 2004.

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.

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January, 2003

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.