traditionally and completely handmade without the use of a wheel or oven.
I learned to create the Mata Ortiz pottery in Mexico by teachers from Chihuahua. This pottery is a recreation of the Mogollon pottery found in and around the archeological site of Casas Grandes (Paquimé) in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Named after the modern town of Mata Ortiz, which is near the archeological site, the style was propagated by Juan Quezada Celado.
The work space generally consists of just a table, with simple tools such as a hacksaw blade, a butter knife, broken spoons, sandpaper, a small stone and paintbrushes generally made from clippings of children’s hair, sometimes just four or five strands tied on a stick. The shaping of the clay is relatively faithful to the original Paquimé techniques, but each potter has their own variation in how they make their pots. However, they are generally based on Quesada’s single-coil method, using the gray, yellow, orange, red and white clays from the area just as those in Paquimé did. The paints are made from clay or from crushed minerals such as manganese, also mined locally.
The formation of the vessel is done without a potter’s wheel; instead it is a kind of wheel throwing making them essentially pinch pots. To begin, a ball of clay is pressed into a round flat shape, which is called a “tortilla.” This tortilla is pressed into a bowl to help it keep it shape as the bottom of the vessel. More clay is added as a coil which is pressed into the top edge of the tortilla, then upon itself to form the walls of the vessel, as the bowl is turn which helps keep the shape and thickness even. The walls are then scraped smooth and thin (for finer vessels) with a hacksaw blade, a process called segueteando. If there is to be a lip, and extra coil is added and integrated. Then the pot is set aside and once completely dry, it is sanded smooth using a stone or deer bone with a little vegetable oil as lubricant.
After painting, the pots are fired on open ground or in pit ovens. Two or three small pots may be fired together, but larger ones are fired individually. They are set on a pile of dried cow dung and wood and if fired on open ground, covered with a large overturned pot called a “saggar.” For polychrome pots, air is allowed to circulate inside the firing chamber. If the pots are to be turned black, the chamber is sealed to keep smoke in and air out.