Just 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.  

Being 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.

Today, 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 characters. 

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.