January 7, 2000

Magic of Mata Ortiz Exhibit to Open at San Diego Museum of Man

The exquisite pottery of Juan Quezada, a legendary, self-taught Mexican artist credited with launching an enduring revival of an ancient art form, will be showcased during the San Diego Museum of Man's "Magic of Mata Ortiz" exhibit, Jan. 15, 2000 and continuing through Jan. 14, 2001.

Juan Quezada in his home, Mata Ortiz. Photo by Grace Johnson.

The exhibit spotlights the vibrant, intricate pottery of Quezada and the work of two other renowned potters, Nampeyo and Maria Martinez —all of whom were inspired by ancient pottery found near their villages and in turn, used their talents to reinvent an artistic movement, while increasing awareness and resources for their native lands.

A major focus of the show will be on the Juan Quezada Pottery Collection (a recent Museum acquisition) and the associated archives of anthropologist Spencer MacCallum, who discovered and supported Quezada, a master potter from the hamlet of Mata Ortiz in Northern Mexico.

"The Magic of Mata Ortiz" exhibit presents an in-depth retrospective of Quezada's work -- from his initial attempts to revive the forgotten, 600-year-old polychrome-style Casas Grandes pottery of ancestral Mexican Indians to his most recent masterpieces. Using strands of children's hair as his paintbrush and without the aid of a potter's wheel, Quezada now produces some of the most highly praised and collected pottery of the 20th century.

Quezada revived this ancient pottery-making technique and now teaches it to relatives and other villagers. Today, of the 2,000 Mata Ortiz residents, nearly 400 derive the greater part of their income from making ceramics.

The Museum of Man recently acquired MacCallum's stunning 340-piece collection of Quezada works as well as personal and professional documents and memorabilia, which will be on display along with other contemporary pottery by the master potter and his immediate family.

According to Grace Johnson, curator of Latin American Ethnography at the Museum of Man, this exhibit is of special significance, as it focuses on the genesis of an art tradition. "Each of the featured artists sparked a regional renaissance," said Johnson, "They were all major influences on their culture and forever altered the social and economic climate of their respective villages."

The exhibition also will feature works by the late Maria Martinez of San Idefonso Pueblo in New Mexico. During the 1920s, Martinez and her husband began making the now famous black-on-black pottery ware. Martinez, who died in 1980, is now known as one of the finest artists in the Southwest.

During the late 19th century, Nampeyo —who helped launch the Southwest art movement— also began producing pottery based on the designs of discovered prehistoric pot sherds. She influenced other Hopi potters and the Sikyatki Revival was born.

Combining Hopi ceramic technology with her imagination and perception, Nameyo restored interest in this ancient Hopi pottery tradition.

According to Johnson, the exhibition demonstrates the parallels between the revivals of Pueblo an ceramics in New Mexico and Arizona and the more recent developments in Mata Ortiz, Mexico.

"The underlying goal of the exhibit is to encourage people everywhere to look to their cultural heritage to help overcome problems imposed by their environment and society," she said.

The exhibit's grand opening gets underway with a series of events. Quezada —recently awarded Mexico's "Premio Nacional de Artes" by President Zedillo— will do pottery demonstrations and firings at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, while Ross Humpreys, photographers and publisher of "The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz," will lecture at 2 p.m. Saturday, and sign copies of his books throughout the weekend. Quezada's work, as well as Mata Ortiz pottery from Galeria Perez Meillon, will be for sale Saturday and Sunday.

The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for visitors 65 and older, $3 for those 6 to 17 years old, and free for children 5 and younger. For more information, phone the Museum at (619) 239-2001 or visit the website at www.museumofman.org.

The San Diego Museum of Man, at 1350 El Prado in Balboa Park, is an educational, non-profit corporation founded in 1915 to display the life and history of humankind.

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