Juan Quezada is a self taught artist working in the small village of Mata Ortiz, in Northern Mexico. In the third grade, Juan began working to help his family. He loved the outdoors so he chose the job of 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 600 years before. Juan was fascinated with his pottery finds and decided that if the indians made pottery here then everything must still be present in nature to do so. It was in a cave ruin high in the mountains that Juan's genius came to life. Nature became his labroratory and fine pottery his goal. Juan tested many materials always returning to the pot shards for clues. The true miracle of Juans story is that one man working without instruction in a discipline wrought with challenges was able to single handedly reinvent a lost technology from pot shards alone.
The ancient Casas Grandes pottery is prized among collectors for its craftsmanship and refined painting designs. Casas Grandes pottery Is the culmination of countless generations of artists learning a craft from their elders and passing it along to their children . In a 15 year period Juan alone 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 the entire village. There are many stories of towns people packing up and preparing to move away from the 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 generosity there are over 500 skilled potters working in the village today.
Juan's legacy is a beautiful story of pottery ,people, generosity and genius. Juan always says that when he teaches someone it never fails that he learns something new from his student. On one occasion he was admonished by native american potters to stop teaching and keep his secrets to himself and family. He respectfully replied "Maybe I am bad for sharing but to me sharing feels right. People come to me eager to learn what i do. They are eager to create so I teach them and then tell them to use it to go make something new".
And something new they did.The artistic diversity of the village is astounding. The tradition is still young having begun in the 1970s. It is safe to say Juan has unleashed a creative force that will grow for generations to come. Mata Ortiz is best described as a tradition based on innovation. This is Juan's guiding principle. Always create something new. Each new artist must make their mark by taking inspiration from the old and creating something new thst nobody has seen before. That is what is interesting in art.
Tom Fresh an artist and dear friend of Juan said that if Juan had 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.