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Fiesta de la Olla Hits the Streets

The annual celebration of pottery and Mexican arts grows into three-day downtown street fair.


El hombre regresa! "The man returns," indeed! The Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC) is gearing up for the eighth annual Fiesta de la Olla, July 14-16—the Mexican arts and culture event featuring the pottery of Mata Ortiz, Mexico, and el hombre himself, Juan Quezada.

The event has grown to three days and will blossom into a full-blown downtown street fair this year. The fiesta will still incorporate all the familiar elements—Mexican arts, music and dance, workshops and a massive pottery marketplace featuring the works of potters from Mata Ortiz, Mexico—that made it so popular in previous years at Fort Cobre in Pinos Altos.

"A new audience will be exposed to the event, just by virtue of its being downtown," says Sheila Swisher, office manager for the MRAC. "The street fair atmosphere will enhance the flavor of this event and, after last year's rain, we needed to find an indoor solution for protecting the pots." Last year's Fiesta de la Olla was cut short by monsoon rains on both afternoons.

"We are also hoping the event will bring interest and activity to our downtown merchants," Swisher adds. The historic Silco Theater on Bullard Street, being renovated by the Silver City MainStreet Project, will house the fiesta's pottery marketplace this year, with sections of nearby Texas and Yankie Streets closed for artisan demonstration booths and live music.

By now the story of Juan Quezada is well known. As a young man working to gather wood to support his young family in his poor and dusty town Mexican town of Mata Ortiz, Quezada came upon artifacts and pottery shards. He was fascinated by the art of the ancients, their unique designs and style of crafting pottery, and soon began working with clay making on his own. After years of work, he began to market his own pots to friends and small-time traders.

Quezada's work was discovered in Deming by Southwest archaeologist Spencer McCallum. He brought Quezada's work out of the small Mexican village and into the awareness of the larger archaeological and artistic community.

Today, Juan Quezada is a world-renowned master potter whose pots fetch thousands of dollars in shows and sales around the world. He has taught his traditional pottery techniques to his relatives in the village, and the pottery produced by the villagers of Mata Ortiz has become an important commodity for the village's economy.

In addition to the yearly sale through the MRAC's event and significant shows in California and other states, the pottery is sold year-round at a number of Silver City stores and galleries, including Elemental Arts on Yankie Street, Azurite Gallery, Firecloud Traders and the Silver City Museum on Broadway, Leyba & Ingalls Arts and Star Mountain Trading on Bullard Street, and Cienega Spa, Salon and Gallery on North Cooper Street.

Cienega proprietor Robin Hogan has been instrumental in the MRAC's production of the Fiesta de la Olla, providing a connection to Quezada and facilitating the transportation of the potters and their works for the festival. Long-time sponsor Chino Federal Credit Union has once again thrown its financial support behind the event, joined by the Silco Theater Project, Cienega and media sponsor KSCQ radio. Lodging sponsor the Comfort Inn provides accommodations for the potters.

The event begins on Friday afternoon, July 14, with pottery sales in the Silco Theater, introductions of the potters themselves, and workshops in which participants will create pottery in the traditional Mata Ortiz style. On Saturday, the street fair aspect of the event kicks in, adding booths of traditional artisans on Yankie Street and live entertainment. Workshop participants will continue with the next phase of their pot building, and there will be a concert by the Santa Cruz River Band at the Buffalo Dance Hall that night.

On Sunday, there will be more entertainment on Yankie Street, the pottery sales continue until 4:00 p.m., and workshop participants go through finishing and firing techniques. The pots are fired in a traditional outdoor fire pit.

Workshops are taught by Mata Ortiz potters themselves, and are open to both children and adults. Class sizes are limited and early registration is encouraged, according to the MRAC. The arts council will sell products at the event, including T-shirts with a custom design created by Juan Quezada for the event.

For more information on the Fiesta de la Olla, the Mimbres Region Arts Council, or to register for the pottery workshops, contact the arts council at 538-2505, toll-free at (888) 758-7289, or check the Web site at www.mimbresarts.org. Brochures on the event are available at the MRAC's office in the Wells Fargo bank building on Pope Street and the MRAC brochure racks in numerous commercial locations throughout the area.

—Donna Clayton Lawder

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