Mata Ortiz Ceramic Pot with Snake Fine Mexican Ceramic

The history of Mata Ortiz Pottery & the Southwest cultures



Mata Ortiz pottery is considered as one of the finest ceramics in the world. It is the result of the cultural heritage of the pre columbian culture of Casas Grandes, also known as Paquimé, and the efforts of Juan Quezada Celado; a man who made possible the so called miracle of Mata Ortiz by recovering ancient lost pottery techniques and sharing his knowledge with the people of his hometown in Chihuahua, México. This created a true renaissance of ceramics in the southwest and transformed the remote rural Mexican town of Mata Ortiz into a Pottery artists village. 

In this blogpost we will share some insights about the origins of Mata Ortiz and its link with Southwest ceramics. We hope you enjoy! 

The history and origin of Mata Ortiz Ceramic is very exciting. It goes back to pre columbian times; to the broad cultural region of Oasisamerica, located in the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico of the American Southwest and in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua of the Mexican Northwest.


Oasisamerica Map with Anasazi, Hohokam and Mogollon Culures

Image: Diego Castro (modificado por),(Anasazi-es.svg )Traducido y subido por Huhsunqu, basado en Anasazi.svg., CC BY-SA 3.0 


Between 100 B.C. and 1400 A.D. Three main cultures developed in Oasisamerica: Anasazi, Hohokam and Mogollón. Mata Ortiz Pottery is direct heir of the Mogollón culture. However, we’d like to share some highlights about Hohokam and Anasazi pre columbian groups as well, because Mata Ortiz contemporary pottery displays common stylistic elements with the three Oasisamerican regions. 


Anasazi culture developed between the 8th and the 13th century and settled in the area known as the four corners; where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico intersect.

In the 13th century, they built amazing cliff dwellings in the zone. The most important was Cliff Palace, in Mesa Verde. Their descendants are nowadays Hopi and Zuni Pueblo Indians.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde Colorado.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde Anasazi Culture Dwelling

Photo: Tobi 87, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Anasazi ceramics have stylistic similarities with contemporary Mata Ortiz Pottery, specially the stepped fret and staggered patterns and the white clay. As for the painting,  Anasazi pottery has a  predominant black, red and white palette, such pigments come from natural sources and are still used in Mata Ortiz Pottery. 

Anasazi pottery ensemble.

Anasazi pottery collection



Zoom view of central pot.

 Anasazi Pot with triangular pattern


 Photos:Yinan Chen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons



Mata Ortiz Pot With Staggered Triangular Pattern. 

Mata Ortiz Pot Anasazi Style Staggered Pattern

Photo: Carapan, Mexican Art Gallery. 

We will discuss about Mata Ortiz black clay pot in other blogposts. Meanwhile, we'd like to address that despite the difference in tone; the similarity in shape and pattern between the two previous imagesi is evident. An interesting fact about Mata Ortiz art is the balance between innovation and tradition. As an example of innovation of contemporary Mata Ortiz ollas, the pot's mouth with an "S" shape and a subtle contour line in white is exquisite. 


Mata Ortiz Pot Detail Southwest Style


The Hohokam people settled along the Gila and Salt river between 450 and 1450 A.D.  They developed a very sophisticated irrigation canal system, with a length of more than 30 miles. At the peak of their civilization, tens of thousands of people lived in their villages.  Hohokam are predecessors of the Pima and Tohono O'odham peoples that live  in the South of Arizona. The most famous hohokam monuments are Monezuma Castle in Camp Verde and Casa Grande in Coolidge, Arizona. 

 Casa Grande, Coolidge Arizona.

Casa Grande Hohokam Monument Coolidge Arizona

Photo: Flickr, Jasperdo.

 According to professor James Blake Wiener "Hohokam pottery tends to be constructed of buff or light brown clay, and they were made using the paddle-and-anvil technique. Hohokam pottery is often decorated with red geometric designs, usually banded or allover patterns of repeated small motifs."

Juan Quezada, the precursor of Mata Ortiz Pottery inspired his work in Paquime pottery. It is our belief that somehow, in a conscious or subconscious level, Oasisamerican pottery keeps inspiring Quezada and his successors.

 For instance; the Modeling technique used by Quezada and his successors in Mata Ortiz is also paddle and anvil; which means the pot is modeled manually, with no potters wheel at all. 

As for the painting and decor, the allover pattern of repeated small motifs as Prof. Blake Wiener describes for Hohokam pottery, is also constant in Mata Ortiz ceramics. The following images are very eloquent in tis respect:

Hohokam Pot exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago Ca 950-1150 A.D.

Hohokam Pot Olla with red geometric pattern

Photo: Sailko, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons 


Detail of Mata Ortiz Pot, available at Carapan

Mata Ortiz Pot with Hohokam  alike Pattern for sale at Carapan

Photo: Carapan, Mexican Art Gallery. 

Hohokam bowl, Dallas Museum of Art, Ca 850-1000 A.D.  


Photo: Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Mata Ortiz Pot with lizards, available at Carapan.

Mata Ortiz Pot with Lizards for sale at Carapan 

Photo: Carapan, Mexican Art gallery.


Mogollón Culture dates back to the first centuries of our era. Mogollón people lived across a region that covers the current states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Arizona and New Mexico.

Their most important city was Paquime, also known as Casas Grandes, in Chihuahua. Casas grandes had a labyrinthic system of interconnected houses, some of them with up to 5 floors,  Paquimé means in Náhuatl big houses; same as Casas grandes in Spanish. 

Paquimé Archeological Site in Casas Grandes Chihuahua, México

Paquime Archeological Site in Casas Grandes Chihuahua

Photo: tuexperiencia

Casas grandes flourished between 1300 and 1450 A.D. At its peak, its political influence had an estimate radio of 38 miles. Anthropologists and scholars believe it was a place for commerce, since archeologists have found vestiges and objects made of non existent materials in the region; such as turquoise, copper and even macaw skeletons. The macaw is an element  present in both Paquime ancient pottery and contemporary Mata Ortiz Ollas. 

  Paquimé pot, with two macaw heads and stepped fret pattern

Ramos period Ca 1200, 1450 A.D.

Mata Ortiz Pot with Macaw Heads Ramos Period

 Photo: INAH


Mata Ortiz pot with stylized Macaw Head, available at Carapan

Mata Ortiz Pot with Macaw Head

 Video: Carapan Gallery.

 Mogollón ceramics is divided in three stages. 

During Mogollón Old period (700 to 1200 A.D.) , the decoration of the pottery was more simple. Yet, Sgrafitto and symmetrical patterns are present.   The use of this pottery was both utilitarian and ritual.

 Paquime pot, sgrafitto technique. 

Paquimé Mogollón Pot Early Period 

 Photo: INAH

On Paquime second era; the symmetrical decor with red lines disappears and red and black tones are used over a light brown and white background. The stepped fret pattern appears as well as the macaws and the geometric patterns. The most beautiful pots with geometric patterns are of a type called Ramos. 


Paquimé  Ramos pot with stepped fret  and geometric patterns.Paquime Ramos Pot with Stepped Fret and Geometrical Pattern

 Photo: INAH

 Effigy pots are also an important element of Ramos period in Paquime . Such effigy pots have animal and anthropomorphic shape. In Oasisamérica, Effigy pots have been found only in Paquime culture. 

 Effigy Ramos Pot of woman laying on left side, decorated with bullseye pattern, macaws and fret patterns.

Paquime Ramos Effigy pot

 Photo: INAH

The third and last era of Mogollón culture is a time of decadence. The city suffered fires and attacks from enemies. Paquime was gradually abandoned. The ceramic technique was lost for centuries. Until, in the 1970's a man named Juan Quezada appeared.  

Juan Quezada was a countryman and a railroad worker, with no  formal artistic or academic background , but with an enormous creative vein.  His tenacity and creative spirit led him to make a thorough research that in the end brought Paquime ceramics to a new era: The pottery of Mata Ortiz. 

Contemporary Mata Ortiz Effigy Pot, Ramos Style.

Mata Ortiz Effigy Pot Paquime Ramos Stylephoto: Carapan Gallery.

  At our gallery, Carapan you will find the most cared selection of Mata Ortiz pottery for sale with high quality pictures and videos of each pot. Most of them are signed by the artists and each comes with a certificate of authenticity. Feel free to browse, follow us on social media and contact us, we'd love to hear from you! 


Facebook: Carapan Folk Art.

Youtube Channel: Carapan, Mexican Folk Art Gallery. 

Upcoming ...Part II Juan Quezada's life and legacy.

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Meet the Author

Porfirio Sosa Torres, a Poet and Photographer, holds a college degree in business. He has also pursued extensive studies in communication and photography. His godfather, Humberto Arellano Sáenz, founded Carapan Gallery in 1950. From a tender age of 6, Porfirio has been deeply immersed in Mexican Folk Art, benefitting from the wisdom of his father and embarking on journeys across Mexico to seek out the most exquisite examples of folk art for display at Carapan Gallery. His passion lies in the pursuit and appreciation of beauty in art, fueling his desire to curate the most exquisite folk art pieces for the gallery.

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