In a small village at the end of a long dirt road, magic happens every day. It is an earthly magic, worked by men, women and children at kitchen tables and in backyards all over town, and its elements are very simple.
A handful of mud.
A few sticks and stones and human hairs.
A pile of cow manure or sometimes cottonwood bark, a splash of kerosene, a quick fire.
But out of the smoke and ashes comes something greater than the sum of these homely parts: beautiful pottery. Seventy-five miles due south of the “boot heel” jog in the New Mexico border, in the heart of the Casas Grandes region of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. the master potters of Mata Ortiz turn dirt into art.
Not too many years ago, an American man was sifting through “treasures” at a garage sale in Texas, when he spotted two unusually beautiful pots. “Where did these come from?” he asked. A shrug of the shoulders was his answer, but persisting, he discovered that the pots were from Mata Ortiz in Mexico, where the pots were indeed beautiful, but the output was small.
As he was on vacation, he drove down to the village and found the potter who was responsible for the ceramics. The village was poor, and most of the people indifferent. The American foresaw a lucrative business for the entire community if they were all involved in the manufacture of pottery.
Today, most of the people either hand-build the pots, decorate, contribute to the firing, which is done in the age-old way, just as the native American potters from New Mexico and Arizona have always fired: without electric kilns.
To watch these artisans work is quite marvelous. From the hand building process to the hand decorating it is indeed magic. Fine lines may use a brush with only one hair, and the pattern is never written down. They may divide the pattern into sections which revolve around the pot, and somehow it always comes out even no matter how intricate.
With the aid of the American, they developed a marketing strategy, and today the Mata Ortiz pots are among the most sought-after with collectors.