Juan Quezada is a self taught artist working in Mata Ortiz, a small village in northern Mexico. In the third grade, Juan began working to help his family. He loved the outdoors so he chose the job collecting firewood. His trips took him far into the Sierra Madre where he entered an archeological wonderland full of artifacts from the Paquime culture that had inhabited the region until the 1400s AD. Juan was fascinated with his pottery finds and decided that if the indians made pottery then everything must be present in nature to do so. It was here high in the mountains that Juan's genius came to life. Nature became his labroratory and fine pottery his aim. Juan tested many materials always returning to the pot shards for answers. The true miracle of Juans story is that one man working without instruction in a discipline known for its challenges, and using only artifacts to guide him was able to single handedly reinvent a lost technology.
The ancient Casas Grandes pottery is prized among collectors for its craftsmanship and refined painting designs. Casas Grandes pottery was the culmination of countless generations of artists learning from their parents and standing upon one anothers shoulders to pass along their age old secrets. In a 15 year period Juan reinvented a pottery technology to a level that many argue is superior to the climax of the Paquime pottery.
Juan does not take part in this comparison but instead looks to the ancient indians as his kin and inspiration, an amazing culture that produced some of historys finest ceramics.
Juans passion for invention and adherence to quality has set a high standard for an entire village which he selflessly taught. There are many stories of towns people packing up and preparing to move away from the dry desert where farming failed to provide a living. Juan would stop them in the street and tell them to stay and come to his home and he would teach them to make pottery. Thanks to Juan's amazing generosity there are over 500 skilled potters working in the village today.
Mata Ortiz is a story of pottery ,people, generosity and genius. Juan always says that when he teaches someone it never fails that he eventually learns something from his student. On several occasions he was admonished by native american potters to keep his secrets to himself and family. He respectfully replied "maybe I am bad for sharing but to me it just feels right. People come to me eager to learn. Eager to create and I show them what I know and then tell them to take my knowledge and go make something new".
And something new they did.The artistic diversity of the village is staggering. The tradition is still young having begun in the 1970s. It is safe to say Juan has unleashed a creative force that will shine for generations to come. Mata Ortiz is best described as a tradition of Innovation, Juan's guiding principle. Each generation looks to make their mark by standing on Juans shoulders and making something new.
Tom Fresh an artist and dear friend of Juan said that if Juan been born anywhere else on the planet he would naturally have become a rocket scientist or engineer as a way to challenge his sharp mind. Today in his seventies, Juan's favorite passtime is to walk alone in the Sierra Madre searching for clay just as he did in his youth. He is fascinated with invention, always looking for the next piece of the puzzle that will allow him to take his pottery to a new level of sophistication.