Presentations on Mata Ortiz pottery planned

Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — At first blush, there is little to connect the famous pottery of the Mexican village of Mata Ortiz with the work that was produced in the Four Corners area during the ancestral Puebloan era.

Mara Ortiz master potter Oralia Lopez will offer a series of presentations Thursday, Aug. 4 at the Salmon Ruins Museum.

“Obviously, there is some distance between here and the pottery makers in northern Mexico,” said Larry Baker, the executive director of the Salmon Ruins Museum. “The pottery styles in northern Mexico are quite different than what you would find here in the (American) Southwest.”

But that’s not to say the Mata Ortiz work and the pottery that has been recovered from local archaeological sites like Salmon Ruins are entirely unrelated.

“Even though you don’t see any direct link, that international boundary between us and Mexico is a political derivation that didn’t exist (during the Puebloan era), so there was a lot of trade between the Chaco area and what was going on in Mexico,” Baker said. “You can still see that today.”

That explains why the Salmon Ruins Museum is presenting “The Pottery of Mata Ortiz” on Thursday, Aug. 4, an event that features a series of presentations by master potter Oralia Lopez and author John Bezy.

Lopez is one several hundred artists who have revived the indigenous Casas Grandes and Mimbres styles of pottery in Mata Ortiz, producing contemporary work that adapts those traditions and reflects the work of indigenous ceramicists to the north, including the Hopi, Zuni and Acoma.

Bezy and co-author Stuart Scott chronicled that movement in “The Artistry and History of Mata Ortiz,” which examines the natural, archaeological and artistic history of the community in a remote river valley on the northern Mexico plains where that revival has taken place. The book outlines the relationship between modern Mata Ortiz and the culture and tradition of the ancient site of Paquime.

A vessel crafted by master potter Oralia Lopez is featured.

Baker said the Mata Ortiz artists are doing mostly replicas of the Casas Grandes styles, but he noted that work has developed into “an incredibly stylized art form.” He described the work as thin walled and delicate, while its exterior is elaborately decorated and finished to a smooth surface almost like glass.

Some of that work has been featured at Salmon Ruins for the last three or four years, he said, and visitors have certainly taken notice of it.

“It’s so beautiful and attractive, so visually stimulating,” he said. “The Mata Ortiz area there has exploded in terms of these stylized designs, and I think people find that attractive.”

Lopez and Bezy have journeyed throughout New Mexico and Arizona delivering presentations on the Mara Ortiz work, but Baker said this will be their first time to appear at Salmon Ruins. He said he has met both of them a couple of times and looks forward to hearing what they have to say.

“Oralia Lopez is just incredible in terms of her skill and creativity,” he said. “And Dr. Bezy has written a book that brings this full circle out of the prehistoric and historic periods, and shown how it has become a major art form, not just in Mexico, but in New Mexico and around the Southwest, as well.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: “The Pottery of Mata Ortiz” featuring master potter Oralia Lopez and author John Bezy

When: Thursday, Aug. 4. Presentations will take place at 9 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., with sales and a book signing going on all day

Where: Salmon Ruins Museum, 6131 U.S. Highway 64 west of Bloomfield

For more information: Call 505-632-2013