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January 1, 2018


Of General Interest to Artists,

Exhibitors, Collectors



Pamela Bensoussan (619-420-7782), 616 Second Avenue, Chula Vista, CA 91910, a senior member of the American Society of Appraisers, has appraised collections of Mata Ortiz art. artappraisers[at]cox.net www.artandantiqueappraisers.com

Jack Lima (303-534-0771), owner, Native American Trading Company, 213 W. 13th Avenue, Denver, CO 80204, appraises Southwest ceramics including prehistoric Casas Grandes pottery and Mata Ortiz.  natcweb[at]aol.com  www.nativeamericantradingco.com/gallery/mataortiz.html


Pot Burnishing

Deer-bone burnishers are the type used by Juan Quezada. This extremely smooth tool, about 4-5 inches long with various curves and ends, is superior to any stone-and-oil method and will last a lifetime.

If you know someone who is going to Mata Ortiz, you may be able to get one directly from Juan or his wife, Guillermina. Or if you prefer, make one yourself. The method is no secret. Take the fresh foreleg bone of a deer with joints closed and attached, clean it, wrap it in a cotton cloth, and put it away in your closet or a very dry place for a year or more (if not kept dry, you will get mold and maggots). This allows the marrow to permeate the bone so that it will glide more readily. Split the bone lengthwise into four sections and these into shorter sections, and sand, ending with #600 black grit paper. Why does Juan choose deer bone? Because he watched all the animals and saw that "the deer can jump highest, and its bones are finer and stronger."

Here is Juan Quezada’s method for burnishing dry, unfired clay, using his own low-fire, volcanic-pumice body. He dries, sands, and then covers the surface of the pot with baby oil. When the glisten disappears, he smoothes the surface with a slightly damp cloth. It’s important not to dampen the entire pot at once, but to leave larger dry sections in between the dampened, or the pot will dissolve. The purpose of dampening is to rub the powder created from sanding in a circular motion, filling in any pitting. He then repeats and burnishes when the pot is completely dry. You will notice the difference immediately. The bone burnisher makes a faster, higher luster, deeper polish.


Pot Packing 101

Yes, it is possible to safely ship a pot. Part of the secret is double-boxing. Another is not packing the wadding too tightly; both the pot and the inner box should have some give. A physicist once explained the dynamics of breakage. It's not the first hit that breaks a pot when it falls to the floor. On that first hit, the pot is only bounces. The vibration the bounce sets up, however, causes the pot to break on the second strike. Therefore, damp all the vibration you can by loosely filling the pot with the paper wadding, popcorn, or whatever it is you're using, and then pack the wadding lightly enough around the pot and around the inner box that both can move just a bit. Of course the outer box wants to be strong. Don’t neglect to wrap the pot in a plastic bag to protect the surface from chafing—or from ink transfer if newspaper is your packing material. Your local newspaper may be willing to give you clean newsprint for free from the unused end of a roll. So when visiting the village, take flattened boxes, plastic bags, and newspapers or newsprint. Bubble wrap is very good, but bulky.

          Shelley Corwin submits the following from Chinese Clay Arts: “Whether as a gift or for an exhibition, how to get your fragile art work to arrive safely at its destination is a tough question for many ceramic artists. I have been trying a Flexible Foam material for packing my ceramic art works. It works perfectly. Here are the step-by-step instructions: (1) Obtain a carton box with about two inches of extra space around the piece. (2) Make the bottom portion first. Spray the foam in the box and cover with a plastic sheet on top, then lay the art piece on top of that and wait for six hours or overnight. Now you can make the top portion by using another plastic sheet to cover the surface of your piece and spraying the foam again. (3) After a few hours, your fragile art work will be perfectly surrounded and protected by the foam, as well as ready to be shipped out, preferably using double boxes. The flexible foam material can be found in most building material stores such as Home Depot. Ask for Insulating Foam Sealant Window & Door, 16 OZ, $6.78 each. The Dow Chemical Company, Tel. 866- 583-2583. www.dowgreatstuff.com


Protective Rings for Pots

Any pot worth its salt will balance without a supporting ring. Nevertheless, most collectors use rings to avoid scratching the bottom and, in earthquake areas, to stabilize the pot. Sometimes just a jar lid helps, but choose the size carefully. Clay rings, some wrapped with yarn, are available in the village for around a dollar each, but be sure to pick one that is perfectly round, so that the pot will be stable. Here are some sources for other kinds of rings:

          (1) Attractive molded nylon rings in black, white, or other colors are available in three sizes, inside diameter 2 1/4" ($2.75/pair), 2 5/8" $3.15/pair), and 2 7/8" ($3.50/pair), from Rochelle P. Price (602-237-3514 / Fax 237-3514), 11605 S. Price Lane, Laveen AZ 85339.  paul[at]pricelane.net

          (2) The highest quality rings, if you are looking for a particularly good appearance, are those made by Herman Knechtle (626-447-1346), 140 E. Santa Clara Street #16, Arcadia CA 91006. They are cast rather than extruded, have greater wall thickness (3/16" for the first 4 sizes and thereafter 1/4"), are beveled 45 degrees on the upper edge, and flame polished. Herman is an exacting craftsman. Heights range from 3/4" to 1 1/2". Nine diameter sizes are available, from 2" to 6" by half-inch increments. Cost $6 to $15 each.

          (3) Cast acrylic rings can be ordered from Jule-Art Inc. (800-833-8980), PO Box 91748, Albuquerque, NM 87199. Wally Blanchard, who told us about these, usually bought 2", 3"and 4" diameter rings, which range from $1.35 to $2.35 each. Both ends are beveled. The rings are at least 1" high, so he usually cut them in two with a table saw to halve his investment. The 1/2-inch height is right for most pots.

          (4) "Cylinder acrylic riser sets" (Cat. #408037/37) designed for elevating pots in displays are available from Rio Grand (800-545-6566), 7500 Bluewater NW, Albuquerque NM 87121. Each set of three includes one 2" x 2" (diameter x height), one 3x3, and one 4x4. They are 1/8" thickness. Per-set price ranges from $19.45 for 1 or 2 to $15.97 for 12 or more.

(5) You can make budget protective rings from small tubing. Richard Erlanger, Saga Gallery, South Norwalk, CT, gives one to each customer. He writes:  “Ask at any good hardware store for clear vinyl tubing for, say, air conditioning draining. A popular size is 5/8" outside dimension (OD) by 3/8" inside dimension (ID). Cut a short length (1" or so) of the next smaller size, for example 3 /8" OD by 1/4" ID, and with spittle insert it like a plug into the ends of the larger size tube, which has been precut into a suitable ring size for the pot you want to support, and draw the ends together. The next smaller combination (3/8"OD x 1/4"ID) works well when held together by the next smaller size, 1/4"OD x.170 ID. (Note: With 1/4" tubing you are better off using the heavier frosted white vinyl tubing). Now you have a clear ring with the ends firmly plugged together. Display the pot with the seam turned to the back. If the final ring is too large, cut it to suit. Experiment with different sizes for both aesthetics and safety. Very thick tubing does not bend easily, and very thin sometimes does not hold a curve. Avoid inexpensive tubing like that offered by Home Depot that doesn’t have the heft to keep a smooth curve.

Note: For further protection against earthquake, weight a pot with a "bean bag" of sand or lead shot. Then, if you wish, secure the supporting ring to the shelf with Museum Wax, Museum Putty, or clear Museum Gel (but don't put any of these on the pot itself, as they will stain). These special adhesives are available from, among other places, FWH, Seattle (call Florence Helliesen at 206-285-1755).


Made-In-Mexico Stickers

Stickers "Made in Mexico" are required on every pot that enters the United States. All of the regular tapes will permanently stain a pot, so if you have to use such a tape or sticker, put it in an inconspicuous place, like inside the lip (but where it's still visible) or on the inside bottom. If your hand won't reach inside, press the sticker down, just enough so that it will stick, with the eraser end of a long wooden pencil (be sure there's no clay dust inside that will prevent it sticking). Ideally, however, you should use a tape that is least likely to stain and that you can write the required words on directly. Such a tape is 3M Safe-Release Scotch Masking tape No. 2080, available in most large hardware or building supply stores (however, don’t leave even this tape for an extended period of time, as even it may leave a stain). Since we live in Casas Grandes, we try to keep some of this tape on hand to accommodate visitors. Meanwhile, any of the galleries or any of the people you buy from will probably be glad to give you paper stickers for your pots if you ask. Even stickers cut from Postits will serve. Apply them just before crossing and remove them immediately after. Currently, it appears that the “Made in Mexico” stickers are only being required on pots that are crossing the border for resale.


Even if you are purchasing pots for your own personal collection, you should keep a list of the pots you bought that details the artist and amount paid.  US Customs officials may ask to see your list.


Insuring/Documenting Collections

The MacCallums) have some information, available on request, about insuring pottery collections. In documenting any collection for insurance or other purposes, be aware that digital records are not permanent; they begin breaking down in 5-7 years, whereas analog records (photos, microfilm) last a century or more. Back up with analog!


Pointers for Pottery Workshops/Demonstrations

       Firing: The dramatic highpoint of any pottery demonstration is the open-air firing, yet many galleries and museums sponsoring a demonstration in the United States think they can’t include this because they’ve no place for it. Without exception, however, in our experience, fire marshals have been understanding and cooperative, and with a simple platform of firebrick, a firing does no harm even to lawn grass underneath. Better even than firebrick is a cement board called “Durock,” available from Home Depot, which doesn’t reflect and makes an excellent platform. It comes 4’ x 8’ and can be cut into a piece 4 x 6, which allows room for scraping the coals to one side. Do not, if at all possible, miss this exciting culmination of a pottery demonstration.

       Crossing the Border with Clay: An important part of

every pottery workshop is the experience of working with clay mined at Mata Ortiz. This ball clay* has qualities of plasticity and stability in forming that make it preferred by both Mata Ortiz instructors and students. While some people have experienced delays at the border when crossing with this clay, it is not prohibited if you know where to find the pertinent regulation. Proceed as follows:


(1) www.aphis.usda.gov  [Animal & Plant Inspection Service,                     USDA]

(2)  Using the search engine, go to “PPQ and Manuals”

(3)  Look for “USDA - APHIS - Import & Export.” [This will                         probably be the first item you see]

(4)  Go there and click on “Port Programs”

(5)  Scroll to “Plant Importation Manuals” and click on                              “Miscellaneous.”  This brings up the 208-page manual,

          Miscellaneous and Processed Products.

(6)  Go to Table 5-150, “Soil as Such and Related Materials.”                     Under that heading, look for “Lacking the documents…,”

     then for “Live Rock, Peat, Soil or its Components,” and

     finally “Clay.” At “Clay,” you will find “Footnote 3,” which states:


“Ball clay, milled, mined, or refined, clay free from organic

matter that is intended for use in ceramics, cosmetics, or manufacturing falls outside the scope of the soil regulations.”


Officer Helfrich (520-364-7376), Agriculture, at the Douglas, Arizona port of entry provided this information. She further said that clay must come in as a commercial entry through the Cargo Dock, for which there is a $10.75 fee. The import specialist at the dock said that moist or dry does not make a difference.

          You will need Informal Entry form 7523 (the form for imports valued at less than $2000) filled out in triplicate. To save time, prepare this form in advance. It can be obtained on request from the Cargo Dock at any port of entry. (You can’t go directly to a Cargo Dock, but go through the pedestrian walk and ask, and you’ll be directed to the Dock.)

          The form calls for a Harmonized Tariff Schedule Code number, which we did not find at the Customs & Border Protection web site (www.cbp.gov) we were referred to, but the Cargo Officer at the Douglas port of entry told us by phone that if we were not successful in locating it, he would help us once we arrived.

          Also required is an invoice identifying the importation and its value. In the case of clay, this need not be more than a few words on a sheet of paper describing it and giving an estimate of value, which would be the cost of the labor to mine and refine it, something in the neighborhood of $25 for the quantity needed for a public demonstration or workshop.

          Officer Helfrich recommended phoning the port the morning of the day of crossing. The numbers for the nearest ports of entry are: Naco AZ, 520-432-5349; Douglas AZ, 520-364-8486; Antelope Wells NM, 575-436-2792 (open only 8-4pm daily and no commercial importation at this port); Columbus NM, 575-531-2686; Santa Teresa NM, 575-589-9354; and El Paso TX, 915-872-3444.

          Note that the Cargo Docks are closed weekends. Their hours are 9-5 Mon-Thu and 9-6 on Friday.

* Ball clays are kaolinitic sedimentary clays, fine-grained and plastic in nature, that are mined in many areas of the world including northern Chihuahua for making ceramic articles. The name is believed to have originated because when the clay was mined by hand, it was cut into 15 to 17-kilogram cubes. During transport the corners of the cubes rounded off leaving "balls." For further information see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_clay

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