Mata Ortiz Study Abroad

By Abbi Jones

Utah Tech University students explored the landscape and experienced the culture of Mata Ortiz, Mexico, during winter break. Throughout the trip, the students visited historic sites, made pottery, and visited local artisans. The participating students fell under a variety of majors, making each student take something unique from the trip.

Cueva De Le Olla

Cueva de la Olla and Paquime are two of the many sites visited on the eight-day long trip. Cueva de la Olla, meaning “cave of the pot,” is an ancient settlement in a cliff. To get to Cueva de le Olla, the students had a mile long hike to reach their destination. After arriving, they began cleaning up trash around the area as a service project, later finding pottery shards.


As for the other destination, Paquime, it was slightly more developed than other destinations as it had features of running water and a macaw breeding program. The Paquime settlement was abandoned an estimated 100 years before the Spanish got there, and structures still stand from that time period.

Throughout the students’ time in Mata Ortiz, they were hosted by local potter Diego Valles. Providing them housing, food, and expertise, Valles created an environment that will never be forgotten.

Throughout their time spent with Valles, the students were introduced to the creative side of pottery, teaching the students how to create pots from scratch in his studio. “The outside was made of adobe, a dried mud brick that contained ancient shards of pottery and even fragments of ancient human teeth,” said Jake Harber, a participating student. “The inside was a little more modern with insulation, poured concrete, a radio, and foldable tables.”

After molding and firing the pots, it was time to paint. Keeping with the traditional approach in creating pottery, the students used brushes with only a few hairs, eight to 15 strands. Traditional pottery employed fine lines and intricate designs into their work, so they followed suit and emulated that approach.

Pottery in Progress

Aside from the one-on-one time spent with Valles, he also introduced the students to a variety of local artisans. After seeing their tremendous work, the students ended up purchasing different types of ceramics and pottery.

The Mata Ortiz, Mexico, study abroad trip exemplified Utah Tech’s “active learning. active life.” mission by exploring historical sites, learning about the pottery culture of northwest Mexico, and creating pots using the traditional methods.