on Mata Ortiz
Enlarging upon the Legacy of Juan Quezada
No longer can there be any doubt about a jewelry industry in Mata
Ortiz. Significant production is probably still a year away, but
a beginning has been made. On March 20, the first sale took place.
Out of appreciation, he said, for our introducing him to Mata
Ortiz and for Spencer suggesting a name, Micky Vanderwagen gave
us the distinction of being the first on record to buy a piece
of "Matiz" jewelry. The name "Matiz" is more than simply a contraction
of "Mata Ortiz;" it means in Spanish a hue of color, and color
is one of the hallmarks of this new jewelry.
The attached photo shows that first piece. Made by Ariel Rentería,
it is a silver bolo tie set with jet, turquoise, opal, pink coral,
and mother-of-pearl. The design builds on the mythology of Paquimé,
showing a guacamaya, or macaw, conversing with the Milky Way,
one of the manifestations of the Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl,.
The graduated, circular symbols between the two indicate the shaman
on his journey. No one can mistake this jewelry for Southwest
Indian work or that of Taxco. It's flavor is its own.
||For those unacquainted with the story
of this fledgling industry in Mata Ortiz, Micky Vanderwagen
bought the old Pearson Sawmill property adjoining the village,
leased out the agricultural operation to Chito Rentería, and
converted the buildings into silver workshops. Last August,
the first class opened with four students: brothers Ariel,
Samuel, and Felipe ("Fili") Rentería Veloz, and Lázaro Ozuna
Tuition is nominal. Anyone is welcome to learn. When in four
to six months someone has learned enough to begin working
at home, that will free up space for another person in the
class. What an artist or craftsman produces, he can sell on
his own or to Micky, as he likes, and he can obtain supplies
from Micky or from any other source.
Micky's goal is to promote a jewelry industry
that will have a "wholly new look," one based on Mata Ortiz designs
and, so far as possible, using only materials from the region.
The full curriculum will include handworking and casting silver,
leather tooling, and lapidary, the latter including facetted-gem
cutting. As students develop proficiency in silver-working and
lapidary, they'll progress toward using gold and precious stones.
This beginning industry builds on the existing strengths of Mata
Ortiz, which are mainly the legacy of one person, Juan Quezada.
Those strengths include strong design, openness to innovation,
a willingness to learn through technical and artistic experiment,
and a thoroughgoing dedication to quality. Juan has an inborn
sense of quality. I remember vividly that in the beginning years
he never tired of stressing that quality was the key to the future
of the village. That was a difficult idea to put across to his
family and to others in Mata Ortiz. They knew all about hard work
and producing things to sell, but to put your heart and soul into
what it was you made? It was hard to convey, but Juan succeeded.
Today the whole village understands quality.
In yet another important respect Juan stands out. In a family
oriented society, he has a rare concern not only for his own family,
but for the welfare of the entire village. Once in the early years
he made the long trip to Saltillo to visit a tile factory, thinking
tiles might provide an industry in Mata Ortiz for those who were
unskilled in pottery. But as it turned out, everyone developed
skills, so that wasn't necessary.
The Matiz jewelry industry follows in this tradition. Like Mata
Ortiz pottery, it is a cottage industry that will stress innovation,
strong design, and dedication to quality. The entire village will
benefit. The economy of Mata Ortiz is strong but lacks diversity,
leaving it vulnerable to the winds of change. Jewelry brings needed
diversification. When demand is down for pottery, it will often
be up for jewelry, and vice versa. Traders seeking jewelry in
the village will see the pottery, and those seeking pottery will
see the jewelry.
Jewelry is compatible with pottery in a special way. Pottery has
the limitation that it occupies large amounts of physical space.
Consequently it tends to fill up one's home, which means that
a potter can't develop and work with a permanent base of customers
but must keep looking for new buyers. His clients want to keep
collecting, but they run out of places to put more pots. Jewelry,
by contrast, has no such limitation. It occupies little space
in a bureau drawer. Therefore, the same clientele can return year
after year. If someone in the family is making jewelry, a family
can keep its established customers—returning now to collect
By wearing and displaying Matiz jewelry in public, moreover, collectors
will spread the word about Mata Ortiz in a way they can't with
pottery. Pots don't get out and about, because they are bulky
and fragile. They must reside at home for only a limited audience.
So jewelry is a powerful and complementary medium for spreading
the word about Mata Ortiz and bringing in new pottery clientele.
No one could be better suited than Micky to introduce jewelry
making to Mata Ortiz. His grandfather from Holland in the late
1800s founded the first trading post in Zuni Indian Pueblo. Micky
feels an attachment to Mata Ortiz because it is so like the Zuni
Pueblo he grew up in half-a-century ago. As the third generation
of a trading family, he has an impressive knowledge of marketing
and a global network of contacts. And like Juan Quezada, he has
that rare, inborn sense of quality that made Mata Ortiz what it
Micky was the individual most responsible for the high quality
of Zuni jewelry up to about 15 years ago relative to other Southwest
Indian jewelry. But in the mid 1970s, the old trading families
including the Vanderwagens began to phase out of the retail end
of the Native American art market. It was then that Micky's international
contacts in jewelry told him they desperately wanted a "new look"
in jewelry. That "new look" is now being realized. It's hard to
think that it would ever have happened without the Mata Ortiz
tradition, the legacy of Juan Quezada, to build upon.