Breckenridge gallery ushers in new art
Summit County Correspondent
There’s a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico, called Mata Ortiz. It’s barely three streets wide, and until the 1970s, residents had no hope of making money within the barren and remote town.
But when Juan Quezada discovered fragments of pottery fashioned from the Anasazi Indians two thousand years ago, he began experimenting with dirt nearby, in order to copy the consistency of the ancient pottery. When he finally found the proper makeup, he began hand-making pottery, which some mistook for authentic ruins.
He taught others in the village how to create the unique pottery, and now the art form is garnering attention worldwide. Recently, the president of Chihuahua presented a pot to the pope.
What makes the pottery so precious?
For starters, the artisans use no wheels, no molds and no stencils. They form rounded vessels with their bare hands, manually turning the piece as they go.
The most amazing aspect of the pottery, however, is its intricate hand-painting. It takes villagers three to six months to create one pot, because they adorn it with geometric shapes and artistic designs using one single horsetail hair as a brush. They wake up with the vessel near their bed and fall asleep with it near their bed, working on it throughout the day. They don’t have access to store-bought supplies, so they rig an old ball-point pen with a horsehair and use it as a paintbrush. The produce paint from minerals in the earth.
Locally, Luis and Norma Rodriguez are one of the few pioneers bringing the pieces to the United States. The couple opened Paquime Gallery in Breckenridge about two weeks ago.
Norma Rodriguez immigrated to the states with her parents when she was 12. She and her husband enjoyed a prosperous life in Aurora, Colo., for the last decade; he owned a construction business and she worked in an insurance agency for 10 years. They owned two homes, one they lived in and one they rented. But as the recession worsened, construction jobs plummeted. The Rodriguez family sold one home, but they still struggled to make ends meet.
About six months ago, Luis Rodriguez’s uncles visited him from Mexico, where they own an art gallery, which sells local artisans’ work. His uncles proposed becoming business partners and opening a gallery in Colorado, but Norma Rodriguez feared opening a gallery during bad economic times.
“They had been wanting to open another venture, but I was scared,” she said. “I was the first one to talk them out of it.”
But six months later, the uncles returned—this time with merchandise –determined to help not only the Rodriguez family, but also the villagers in Mata Ortiz. And this time, Norma Rodriguez felt more receptive.
“We come from a country where the economy has always been week, and also filled with crime, corruption, violence –all of those things. So, we weren’t (as) scared. We thought, ‘What do we have to lose?’ We were already living paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
So they began searching mountain towns, in hopes of finding a better economy than Denver’s.
“Aspen was too expensive and too posh for the type of people we are,” she said. “Vail was in the middle, but we (decided on) Breckenridge because we liked how approachable the people are and how friendly they are. This is more like home.”
And, indeed, when people walk into Paquime Gallery –named after the archaeological ruins near Mata Ortiz – an earthy, warm atmosphere welcomes them. Fountains gurgle, colorful paintings and jewelry stand out, and Norma Rodriguez is almost always present to introduce visitors to the varied artwork: a circular picture created out of tree pulp and bark meant to bless newlyweds as they enter a new circle of life, necklaces made of dried nuts and painted seeds, ornately carved chess sets fashioned from wood, bone and onyx.
“Everything has a story behind it,” she said, pointing out purses made of recycled fabric and bamboo place mats.
In a smaller room off to the side, a Mexican television program plays, depicting the process villagers go through to create the pottery. Norma Rodriguez stands beside it, translating.
“I get chills every time I watch this,” she said. “I don’t get tired of it. It’s just beautiful.”
As local real estate broker Amy Nakos – whose company helped the couple find the space on Main Street – put it:
“Not only is it an art gallery – it’s a testament to the human spirit.”
“What our family is doing,” Norma Rodriguez said, “is bringing hope to these people.”