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'Renaissance of Mata Ortiz' film tells story of prized Mexican pottery

July 19, 2011 |  7:14 am

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Long fascinated by the relationship between San Pedro anthropologist Spencer MacCallum and master potter Juan Quezada, filmmaker Scott Petersen spent three summers documenting their fairy tale of a story in "The Renaissance of Mata Ortiz," premiering Wednesday at USC.

"I was drawn to the cross-cultural aspect of their relationship," Petersen said. "Here is this American guy who goes down to Mexico to meet this Mexican artist, and they end up working together." As the pottery reached new markets and grew in popularity, Mata Ortiz was transformed into a working art colony.

Page6-1017-full In the documentary, MacCallum shares the well-publicized tale of how he tracked down Quezada after buying three of the self-taught artist's pots in a New Mexico junk shop. MacCallum subsequently encouraged Quezada to experiment and expand his pottery work, and MacCallum marketed the handmade works in America. More than 30 years later, that relationship affected the entire community of Mata Ortiz. (In the photo at right, that's Quezada on the left with MacCallum.)

The film visits the dusty village and its inhabitants, particularly a new generation of artists inspired by Quezada. We watch artist Diego Valles go hunting for clay in a nearby riverbed and cut strands of his young daughter's hair to use as a paint brush for the intricately detailed pottery -- a Postmodern artist using ancient techniques.

"There are a lot of excuses artists can make," Petersen says. "No money. No equipment. And Juan just figured it out on his own through his own talent and perseverance."

The film screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at USC's Ray Stark Family Theatre, Room 108, George Lucas Instructional Building, University Park Campus, 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles. Petersen will host a question-and-answer session following the film. Two local traders -- DeSilva Imports and Modern Mata Ortiz -- will sell  pottery before and after the screening. Admission is free, but reservations are requested.

-- Lisa Boone

Photo credits: Scott Petersen

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