Mata Ortiz Revisited

Two weeks ago Monday (October-1), I left Brooklyn for Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua. A tad less than two weeks later (Saturday, October 13th at 2:30 AM) I pulled into our Red Hook warehouse, a load of new pottery from Mata Ortiz picked up over the previous weekend. I can now reflect on my journey to this amazing town. Last Spring Victoria, Derek and I had visited Mata Ortiz in-route to the border. We were as green as could be, knowing nothing about the town, her people and the amazing pottery being produced there.

This time would be different, this time, I was able to scratch the surface a little deeper, get to know some of the town’s people personally, and be privy to some of the politics and personal dynamics happening in town. Coincidentally there would also be a “brokers and collectors” annual meeting in Mata Ortiz and Casas Grande, which would bring all the “players” into the mix, many of whom I had heard about before even meeting them. I would also hook-up with a fellow importer who I felt much more aligned with than anyone from the players-club.

Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua

Showing the location of Mata Ortiz in proximity to border crossings in Douglass AZ and El Paso TX.

To understand Mata Ortiz –and the reason I drove there for more ollas (pots)– you have to understand something about the very nature of the village and the villagers. Although Mata Ortiz is located only a few hours from the border of Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, there is no shipping available from either Casas Grande or the larger commercially thriving Nuevo Casas Grande. No DHL, FedEx or UPS, no Mexican alternative whatsoever. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the villagers dilema is “if you want pots, you have to come here and get them.” Occasionally a potter will be crossing the border for either personal reasons of for the purpose of crossing pots –for a show or shipping– but this is not done with any regularity and reliability.

Then there are the brokers, who somewhat (from my perspective) indiscriminately load up and cross the border with pots not so much for their quality or beauty but more for their profitability. Routinely they double the cost, then charge ¬†for shipping and packing. It was interesting meeting the few brokers I did while I was there, all claiming to be able to get ollas direct from the potters for less than I could do direct, all vying for the profitable position of middleman. As much as the trip cost me both in terms of time (away from family) and dollars (hotels, food and fuel), I feel that purchasing direct from the artisans is paramount to what we do here at Manos. We don’t have one item in the gallery who’s hands we haven’t seen, or gripped in a handshake, the very “Manos de Mexicanos” who craft the pieces we offer. Going the broker route probably makes more “business sense” however, part of what we do is know who we are buying from, and selecting the pieces that we are able to see for ourselves.

Here are some of the faces I met on this trip…

Again, one very important aspect of what we’re doing with our gallery is actually purchasing direct from the artisans. We could easily set up an arrangement for acquisition that would both eliminate travel time and (likely) expenses, and that arrangement would mean that we would be buying from the plethora of “brokers”, the middle-men who isolate you (and me) from the artisans, but as with all of what we offer here at Manos, we’ve seen and held and “felt” the pieces, as well as met with the artisans in their workshops and homes.

For the very same reason, we are not and will not offer internet sales. These pieces need to be seen. The internet can be a tricky place; size and texture will never be adequately represented, the spirit and enthusiasm of the artisan totally lost. We opt to make the trip from New York to Chihuahua –not an easy task– in order that we are able to purchase and offer pieces that are truly representative of Mata Ortiz and her people. We invite you here to see for yourself, what is commonly referred to as “The Miracle of Mata Ortiz.”

 

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