129 miles southwest of El Paso, Texas lies Paquimé, or Casas Grandes, an
ancient sprawling ruin in Mexico’s Chihuahuan high desert.
Paquimé was inhabited from the early thirteenth century until the
mid-fifteenth. It was the largest and culturally most complex settlement
in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. As early as 1584
Baltazar de Obregon's published description of Casas Grandes recognized
it as one of the largest and most important communities in the huge
area, which is now the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Indeed, it was a cultural center for a prehistoric people
within a thirty thousand square mile area encompassing Texas, New
Mexico, southeastern Arizona and northeastern Sonora and Chihuahua.
Clearly it is no accident that Paquimé is precisely aligned on
the same meridian of latitude as similarly abandoned Chaco and Aztec
pueblos in New Mexico.
the cultural center of the southwestern pueblo-dwelling Native
Americans, Paquimé art and architecture were highly developed.
Nowhere is the Paquimé’s aesthetic sense better displayed than
in the exquisite pottery they produced.
Like the chicken and the egg, it’s not clear which came first,
the fine pottery of the Acomas, Navajos and other northern pueblos or
that of Paquimé. Regardless
of which came first, it is clear that Paquimé pottery echoes similar
themes and rivals the finest.
in the tiny village of Mata Ortiz, 14 miles from Paquimé, highly skilled
artisans create pottery using the original Paquimé methods and design
themes. Their pots are created without the potter’s wheel, by the
painstaking coil and pinch method. The potters of Mata Ortiz dig their
clays from nearby pits and their paints are made from the colorful
crushed ores and minerals found in the surrounding mountains.
Pottery making is often a family project in Mata Ortiz with some
family members making the many-shaped pots, while others apply the
gorgeous paints in designs that range from amazingly intricate
geometrics to ancient animals, birds, butterflies and symbolic
In recent years, Mata Ortiz pottery has become highly prized by knowledgeable collectors because it is among the finest of southwestern Native American ceramics and is an authentic resurrection of the long-lost methods of the Native people.