Mata Ortiz is a village in Chihuahua, Mexico where an ancient form of pottery was rediscovered by a man named Juan Quezada. Surrounding his home in the Casas Grandes area lays the ruins of the ancient city of Paquime. Many things about this ancient city are still a mystery such as who lived there and what happened to them, although one thing that remains is the influence of their pottery.
Juan’s original pottery was painted while it was still wet using a brush made from his wife’s hair. This technique is difficult to control, so the more common method is to allow the pot to dry before painting it with fine lines. Most paints are reds and blacks from naturally occurring minerals found in Mata Ortiz. In order to achieve the very fine lines of the designs, the human hair brushes are around two inches long and are simply set down on the clay and pulled through rather than using the tip to draw. Designs are all symmetrical and the pots are either split in half or into three sets of identical thirds.
The final step is to fire the pot in a terracotta kiln with dried cow chips surrounding it. The pot is placed on dry ground and then the terra cotta pot is placed over it. The potter then burns the cow chip until it goes out and lets the pot cool before removing it from the man-made kiln.