A world of inspiration: The Man Behind the Miracle

A great thing about travelling is the many, often unexpected, sources of inspiration we encounter. One of the best sources of inspiration lies in the people we meet. I’m certain that we all have travel stories to tell in which we met someone inspiring who may even have had an influence on us in some way or other. To celebrate the inspiring people we meet during our travels, I’m launching a new weekly series called “A world of inspiration”. For this series, I’ve invited fellow travellers to share their experiences by writing a guest post.

This week kicks off with a wonderful contribution from Vera Marie Badertscher who met an incredible man on one of her trips to Mexico. Although Mexico is currently experiencing a serious crisis that is spreading throughout the world, this story is a powerful reminder of the resilience and determination of the human spirit.

The Man Behind the Miracle

It has been called a miracle. But the artistic renaissance of this dusty village in Chihuahua depended not on some divinity, but on a humble man, Juan Quezada.

Courtesy of nebneb (via Flickr)

Courtesy of nebneb (via Flickr)

As a boy, he painted on walls, his mother said. And as a young man, about the time the railroad jobs were running out in his little village of Mata Ortiz in Chichuahua Mexico, he became curious about the broken pieces of pottery left behind by the ancients. If they could make pottery here, out of this earth, so could he. So by trial and error he taught himself to select the best clay and figured out how to shape it and build a fire out of cow dung. He experimented with the fabulous swirls and mythological designs of the old ones. Gradually, he developed his own distinctive style.

When an American found Juan Quezada in Mata Ortiz and helped him sell his pottery, Juan saw a way for his village to prosper and he started to teach others to make the pottery.”If someone comes to me and wants to learn, I am going to teach them.  I have no secrets,” he has said.


The man himself - courtesy of Mata Ortiz Pottery

Nowadays, international collectors know the names and styles of each son, daughter and cousin of each family in the village. Nearly every house has its potters and the art world recognizes them as fine artists, not folk artists or craftsmen.

I visited Mata Ortiz the year after the Mexican government awarded Juan Quezada the “Premio Nacional de los Artes,” the highest award it gives to artists. Through an interpreter, I asked the handsome 60-year-old if he had worn a suit and tie when he saw the President of Mexico. He laughed. “No,”he said. “Like this” and he pointed to his worn jeans, cowboy shirt and white straw hat. Juan is always Juan. An unassuming worker of miracles.

Read more and watch a PBS report about Juan Quezada, who transformed a poor rural village in northern Mexico into a thriving centre of artisans known the world over. Also, check out these beautiful books on Mata Ortiz: The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz and The Miracle of Mata Ortiz: Juan Quezada and the Potters of Northern Chihuahua

About this week’s guest writer
image159-2 Vera Marie Badertscher is a freelance travel writer based in Arizona, U.S.A.. She discusses books and movies that inspire and inform about travel at A Traveler’s Library. In conjunction with this guest post, she will be talking about books about Mata Ortiz at A Traveler’s Library on May 1. “Even when we cannot travel to Mexico, we can visit it through reading,” she says.

Read other World of Inspiration posts.


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8 Responses to “A world of inspiration: The Man Behind the Miracle”

  1. velvet 01/05/2009 11:41 am

    Thanks Jen for your comment. You’re a true velvet escape fan! I’m sure you’re having a fab time in Paris. The weather couldn’t be better!


  2. jen laceda 01/05/2009 9:31 am

    Love the story! I’m in Paris right now and will try to post everyday and visit velvet escape for my daily fix…if only the wifi at our hotel would cooperate. It’s a bit…slow…for lack of a better word.


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