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Ancient Pottery Tradition Rediscovered & Transformed at Crystal Bridges
Pottery vessels from Mata Ortiz, Mexico from the Lois Damkroger Collection © The Field Museum, GN90785_48d, John Weinstein.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- More than 50 years ago young Juan Quezada stumbled upon ceramic fragments from a lost civilization. Come see how this chance discovery inspired Quezada and the people of Mata Ortíz, Mexico to revive the art of their ancestors and bring new economic life to their tiny village. Both contemporary pottery handcrafted by artists from Mata Ortíz and the centuries-old ceramics that inspired the revival are featured in Transforming Tradition: Pottery from Mata Ortíz, organized by The Field Museum in Chicago and on display at Crystal Bridges’ temporary gallery in downtown Bentonville.

Sculpted, fired and then hand-painted in a labor-intensive process lovingly referred to as La Lucha, or “the Struggle,” the coiled pots, called ollas, feature a dazzling array of intricate geometric designs, fine decorative painting and incising, and beautifully rendered animal forms such as pigs and ducks. Twenty-seven black and red earthenware ollas,including two examples from the Casas Grandes culture that date to the 14th and 15th centuries, will be on display through August 29.

“Transforming Tradition provides a rare opportunity for Arkansans to see how one of the oldest art forms in the Americas was transformed into a living tradition by our neighbors in northern Mexico,” said Chris Crosman, chief curator.

In the 1950s Juan Quezada, a native of Mata Ortíz, a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico that was impoverished when the timber industry died out, discovered ceramic fragments from the Casas Grandes culture that had flourished there eight hundred years before. The people of Casas Grandes dispersed shortly before the arrival of the first Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and their unique pottery-making tradition was lost until Quezada chanced upon potsherds while collecting firewood in the hills near his home. Inspired by these clues from the past, Quezada learned the techniques of this lost tradition and revived the pottery production in the region, which now produces some of the world’s finest contemporary ceramics. More than 400 community members are involved in pottery production, which has become an important source of income for the region.

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