A decade ago Hector Javier Martinez Mendez was working as a mechanic and gardener. Now he is a world-famous potter from the village of Mata Ortiz. He originated the black and white Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead sgraffito motifs. In 2014 a large pot of his earned the Presidential Award at the Premio Nacional de Ceramica in Tlaquepaque, Mexico.
Since then, his business has flourished, although other potters in Mata Ortiz have been busy doing takeoffs of his designs and styles. Hector's wife, Graciela Martinez de Perez, also has a bigger role now in their business and together, they are introducing new styles and designs based on their trademark Day of the Dead and Night of the Dead series.
I got to watch Hector working on one of his pieces. First he slipped the pot four times with a black manganese slip, letting it dry between slips. Once he felt it was dark enough he picked up his primary working tool: a sewing needle taped to a popsicle stick. Then he began scratching his design in the surface, totally free-hand, creating as he turned the pot in his hands. When he was satisfied, he handed the piece to Graciela and, with a smaller needle, she added embellishments: butterflies and geometrics.
Recently, they have been moving into making black-and-white and polychrome shallow bowls with Day/Night of the Dead motifs. They've also varied the surface colors with various shades of brown and red. I've also seen some very elegant butterfly and geometric designs on variously colored jars with no Day/Night of the Dead motif. They've also been adding top and bottom bands of red (with sgraffito geometric designs in each) with a middle band of their trademark black and white Day/Night of the Dead designs.