Hector Javier

Mata Ortiz and
Casas Grandes
Hector Javier Martinez taking a break for a second to look at the camera
Day of the Dead and Mexico City views design incised into a large black olla

Born in 1984, Hector Javier Martinez sprang onto the Mata Ortiz pottery scene around 2008 with his distinctive style of black and white pots incised with Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead motifs. Those designs resulted from a comment made to him by Steve Rose (a well-known American pottery dealer).

Employed as an auto mechanic and gardener just to make ends meet while he figured out the pottery making business, Javier had asked what Steve thought he needed to do in order to make pottery his real day job. Steve replied, "Time for something different." A few years later Javier earned a First Place award at the 2013 Concurso Ceramica de Mata Ortiz for one of his Day of the Dead pots. Then in 2014 he earned the Presidencial Award at the Premio Nacional de la Ceramica in Tlaquepaque, Mexico. He'd submitted a large black-on-white olla incised with Mexico City sights and his Night of the Dead theme (the pot pictured above). Since then we have seen his pots with Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead motifs on them with backgrounds from Paris, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Venice, Mata Ortiz and New York City.

Javier told us he first learned how to make pottery from his mother, but her style was very different from what he found in Mata Ortiz. He had to learn all over again, using local materials and different processes and tools.

In the beginning, his subjects were religious (the Virgin of Guadalupe, priest images, etc.) and the designs were all painted on his pots. It was more than a decade ago that he and Gabriela produced their first black-and-white sgraffito Day of the Dead/Night of the Dead pots together. The style took off immediately and they haven't looked back since, although they have branched out into polychromes and now decorate bowls and plates, too.

Today, Javier is producing all kinds and sizes of pots with his signature Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead motifs. However, with his success has come competition and knockoffs. That said, the detail of his work sets him well apart and working with Gabriela has introduced some new elements into their Dia de los Muertos collection of designs, adding curlicues and other graphic elements, sometimes in Javier's designs and sometimes around the base and in a wide band below the rim.

Javier and Gabriela have four sons, ten years between youngest and oldest (although Javier says he wants another). He says his inspiration comes from his culture and music. Gabriela concurred with that saying that when he's working on a large pot, he might as well be living as a character on the pot.

Javier and Gabriela usually come to visit with us at Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery in Santa Fe just before Dia de Los Muertos (November 1).

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved


Mata Ortiz and Casas Grandes

Paquime macaw pens
The macaw pens at Paquimé

Casas Grandes is both a municipality and an archaeological district in northern Chihuahua State, Mexico. The archaeological district includes the pre-historic ruins of Paquimé, a city that began to build around 1130 AD and was abandoned about 1450 AD. Archaeologists are uncertain as to whether Paquimé was settled by migrants from the Mogollon/Mimbres settlements to the north or by Anasazi elite from the Four Corners region in the United States or by others. Over the years Paquimé was built into a massive complex with structures up to six and seven stories high with multiple Great Houses in the surrounding countryside. Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mata Ortiz is a small settlement inside the bounds of the Casas Grandes municipality very near the site of Paquimé. The fortunes of the town have gone up and down over the years with a real economic slump happening after the local railroad repair yard was relocated to Nuevo Casas Grandes in the early 1960's. The town was in steady decline until Juan Quezada, a poor farmer who gathered firewood in the area of the archaeological site, was inspired by fragments of ancient Paquimé pottery and even older fragments of Mimbres forms with bold black-on-white designs littering the ground to learn more.

Paquime polychrome effigy pot
Ramos Polychrome effigy pot from Paquimé

Quezada was successful in his quest to learn to recreate the ancient process using slightly more modern techniques (although no one in the present tradition uses a potter's wheel). He learned to use sand and other coarse materials for temper. He discovered that dried cow dung made an excellent and inexpensive firing fuel. Instead of using gourds for smoothing he substituted broken hacksaw blades. Instead of using yucca fiber brushes for painting he learned to make brushes with human hair. He persevered in his efforts and by 1971 had produced a kind of polychrome pottery. Since then, most pottery-making in the area has used innovations in the design and decoration of the pots but the materials and the basic crafting of the process have remained the same.

By the mid-1970s, Quezada had attracted a significant number of traders and his work was becoming a commercial success. That is when he began teaching his techniques to his immediate family. They in turn taught other family members, friends and the younger generations. Both women and men were included from the beginning.

Originally called Casas Grandes pottery in the early years of its production, the potters of this tiny village have made such an impact on the pottery communities, including many awards and special recognition from the Presidents of Mexico, that Mata Ortiz pottery is now becoming known around the world.

Today, pottery production has changed the village in many ways as there is now electricity, plumbing, vehicles and more for the residents. Virtually everyone in the small town (2010 population: 1,182) makes their living by working in some part of the pottery-making process, from potters to clay-gatherers to firewood collectors to traders.

Mata Ortiz pottery incorporates elements of contemporary and prehistoric design and decoration, and each potter or pottery family produces their own distinctive, individualized ware. Young potters from surrounding areas have been attracted to the Mata Ortiz revival and new potting families have developed while the art movement continues to expand. Without the restraints of traditional religious practices or gender constraints, a vibrant flow of new ideas has enabled the pottery of Mata Ortiz to avoid the derivative repetition common to virtually all folk art movements. This blend of economic need, gender equality, cultural expression and artistic freedom has produced a unique artistic movement in today's community.

Mata Ortiz location map

Upper photo is in the public domain
Lower photo is courtesy of David Monniaux, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

100 West San Francisco Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501
(505) 986-1234 - www.andreafisherpottery.com - All Rights Reserved