Sunday, March 16, 2014

Adventures in Mata Ortiz, Mexico

I first visited Mata Ortiz with a group in October 2013. With no idea of what to expect I mentally made a decision to, maybe, buy one small pot, but only if I found the right one. Our tour leader suggested that the average person spends about $500. on the first trip. Clearly they didn't know what they were talking about or so I thought. I soon found myself writing checks and wondering how to finance more pots. Not being prepared to purchase all the pots I wanted it was evident I would need to return at some point soon. 

Westen New Mexico University offered a field trip in March 2014. I was the first to sign up and began planning which potters I would add to my collection. Sadly the trip was canceled due to lack of enrollment. A friend was also enrolled and equally disappointed. We had lunch, and I convinced her that we could make the trip on our own.

Making our reservations was very low tech. First I let the class instructor, Claude know of our plans. He agreed to facilitate the reservations through Spencer McCullum who lives in Casas Grandes and has an El Paso phone number that rings in Casas Grandes. Spencer would then get word to Lalo, the owner of the Posada in Mata Ortiz. With that series of connections we were set to go.

Once the reservations were confirmed I met with Claude and got recommendations of potters he is familiar with. With maps, lists and books I made a spread sheet of potential potters to visit. I now have a game plan and am ready to do some serious pot buying. I shouldn't mention it yet, but the game plan did not even get up enough momentum to even fall apart. It just didn't happen. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Our next hurdle was the bureaucracy to get across the border and begin the journey. First a stop in Deming to purchase Mexican automobile insurance, cash or check only. Next the border. Passports in hand along with original automobile title, current registration, driver's license and a friendly buenos dias we patiently waited for the very bored Mexican official to look over our credentials and stamp passports, papers, front and back and wave us on to the next station. Bringing an automobile into Mexico means paying for the privilege and posting a hefty charge on the credit card. This stage of the process involves lots of initials and highlighting of papers before we are given an official sticker to affix to our windshield. Upon leaving Mexico the process is reversed. Photos are taken of the vehicle registration number, the credit card has the deposit reversed, and the sticker is removed but with bits and pieces of it still clinging to the windshield. This sticker was not designed to be removed. The final stamp in our passport lets us exit and be on our merry way back to the states. 

I will skip the paragraph describing the drive down to Mata Ortiz as it is just a drive on a relatively nice two lane highway with very little shoulder. 

We stopped in Casas Grandes to visit Spencer and give him a thank you gift of some chocolate. He graciously offered to show us a local church that had been painted inside by a local artist. Every inch of the walls were painted. It was quite spectacular.

Back in the car and another ten miles and we are now in Mata Ortiz. Nothing has changed. The village is quiet. I remember the land marks and we drive straight to the Posada. While I am opening the gates a young man next door pokes his head out and asks if Lalo knows we are coming. "Si". We drive in and proceed to unload the car. No one is around. Presently Lalo shows up to let us in our rooms. I take the "suite" this time. It is a large L shaped room with two beds and a couch. No electrical outlets in the bathroom but I can make do. The potters begin to arrive. Tables are soon filled with pots. As more and more potters arrive we tell them we will wait until after dinner to shop.

I like to think of myself as having an open mind with no real expectations of what our experience will be. I am deluding myself that our present trip will be like the trip in the Fall with a group. There is a certain safety in a group. One can move from table to table of pots with no guilt because someone else will fill in and make a purchase, or you can just mingle and look interested while hiding safely in numbers. Now we are completely exposed as the Americanos who have come to buy pots. We can not hide. It would be rude to hide in our rooms or just sit and pretend they weren't there. I stall by asking, "Como se llama?" and replying with "Me llamo, Donna". I can pick up each and every pot exclaiming how beautiful it is. "Muy bonito". The experience is new to Claudia and she quickly catches "pot fever" and begins to buy, giving me a slight break from my guilt.

I had big plans of going door to door in search of specific potters but the potters were coming to us in droves. The potters of lesser talent seemed to be the first to appear with the more talented potters coming later. Before each meal they would line up. We had to make it known that we would first eat and then look. This did not prevent them from occasionally poking a head around the corner to make sure we knew they were waiting.

After breakfast on our first full day we escaped to drive around. I had a map of each barrio and check marks by the potters I hoped to see. I wanted a pot from Leonal Lopez who lived at the far end of Barrio Lopez. We found the road by the river and drove along it, but nothing looked familiar. We passed a group of cowboys hanging out around some pick up trucks and then reached what looked like the end of the Barrio. I turned around and approached the cowboys. A woman came out from the house. I asked, "Donde esta Leonal Lopez?" He was right there with the cowboys, and his house was just across the road. I was elated. He did not have the pot I wanted, but I did buy a lovely "fish" pot in the esgraffito style.

On our second day, while eating lunch a well dressed woman of great composure entered. I thought she looked like Lydia Quezda but thought, no it can't be. She briefly stood in front of us and left. A gentleman then approached to tell us that yes, indeed that is Lydia. When Lydia enters a room you know a woman of great determination and force has entered. She walks with purpose and does not look to the right or left nor does she acknowledge the other potters. She is wearing a long black skirt and a blazer. Her husband is wearing dress slacks and  white shirt. The other potters are in jeans and T's. Everyone says that she rarely comes to the Posada so I was on pins and needles to see her pots. She made an appearance during the Fall trip, but I failed to grab a pot fast enough to purchase. Now I have a second chance. Lydia had two pots to show us, one by her son, Moroni and one by her. I did not hesitate to make my purchase from this woman who carries herself with such dignity and presence. Not only do her pots stand out among the many beautiful pots, but she also, does not fit in with the other potters. I told her my name, and she made a point of letting me know that her son, Moroni is now at the University in Chihuahua. Clearly this is a woman to be reckoned with.

I now have  pots from two of the better known potters of Mata Ortiz. I am satisfied that our trip is a success. Claudia is still making purchases and is easily making the day for some of the lucky potters who have sold to her. 

Jose Martinez invited us to his brightly colored home along the river to watch the firing of pots. We met Susy, his wife and son, Ivan.  I purchased a graceful small pot made by Susy. She is distinguishing her pots with delicate etching at the base. 

My final purchase is a figure of a dog by Macario Ortiz. My decision to purchase this piece was to round out my collection with a figure piece. It was whimsical with personality and should you turn it over you will discover that it is anatomically correct.

Hasta la vista, Mata Ortiz. Two days felt like two weeks.