Nestled in a home-turned-gallery in West El Paso, located at 6721 Westwind Dr., Flor de Barro Gallery holds a celebration for Mexican art and culture. Flor de Barro means flower made of clay, a fitting metaphor for an artist's ability to create beauty from simple materials, just as flowers spring from dirt.
Flor de Barro was born out of a local family's generational love, respect for art, and eagerness to show the world what Mexico is all about. The owners handpick every piece exhibited at the gallery, and all of their collection is handmade by Mexican artists. The gallery's art collection boasts over 200 works, a mix of modern and traditional, from many renowned artists. A fraction of the notable artists represented by Flor de Barro are Master Potter Juan Quezada Celado from Mata Ortiz, Master Artisan Jesús Guerrero Santos (whose work has been commissioned by the Vatican several times), and the famous 20th-century painter and printmaker Rufino Tamayo.
At Flor de Barro, pieces from all over Mexico can be found, Wixarika (commonly known as Huichol) yarn paintings and beaded works, trees of life from Puebla, and hammered copper by Sergio Velazquez from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán. Out of the hundreds of pieces exhibited in this spacious gallery, Mata Ortiz pottery holds a special place in the heart of Flor de Barro. As a humble town of only 1500 people, Mata Ortiz has earned a reputation as a prime Mexican hub for pottery and artistic innovation.
The story of a young boy born in poverty, now known as Master Juan Quezada, his hardships and a serendipitous encounter with anthropologist Spencer MacCallum, gave birth to the Renaissance of Mata Ortiz. Consequently, this led to the string of award-winning artists that were born and raised in the town. Quezada's story is a unique tale of perseverance and raw talent. When he was only 14, facing extreme poverty, he dropped out of school to support his family. During one of his working days collecting firewood in the mountains, Quezada discovered a burial site in a cave containing pre-Columbian pottery of the Mimbres and Casas Grandes cultures. This discovery ultimately became his main inspiration to create art. Without art education or experts in these cultures, he figured out and developed the process to produce clay pots. His initial pieces sold for close to $5 to American tourists and merchants. Coincidentally, they were discovered by Spencer MacCallum, an anthropologist who saw incredible potential in Quezada, and financially supported him until he was able to create museum-quality pieces. They later ensued on a USA tour which secured Quezada's name in Mexican art history.
The story of Juan Quezada does not just end with him. He took it upon himself to teach his technique to his family and friends, which spread like wildfire through the town. Today there are over 600 people who earn all or part of their income from the pottery. Quezada's work has been displayed in museums and galleries all over the world. In 1999 he was awarded the National Prize for Arts and Sciences, an award given to the likes of Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.