Brooklyn is full of hidden gems in unassuming places.
Nouvelle Vague, a quaint cafe in Prospect Heights, is a perfect example. Look beyond the pastry case and espresso machine of this colorful neighborhood coffee shop, and you will discover a trove of hard-to-find pottery made by indigenous artists in the small town of Mata Ortiz, Mexico.
“It’s an enigmatic and remote part of the world … Recently they found the oldest footprints of North America in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico — the same state where Mata Ortiz is located,” said Mary Mayo, an art enthusiast who introduced the pottery to Nouvelle Vague’s owner, Valerie Vidal. “Working closely with a Mata Ortiz trader, I contacted a few fine art collectors whom I thought might connect with the artwork. I wanted to spread the word about the pottery as one does with good news.”
While the pottery can easily be found in the Southwest, few places in this part of the US carry these impressive works of art. In Brooklyn, Nouvelle Vague is one of only two places where you can view and purchase the earthenware.
“Mary and I are working on capturing the attention of a bigger audience on the East Coast,” said Vidal.
Mata Ortiz pottery is notable for its elaborate tribal designs and unconventional spouts, though the designs are as aesthetically diverse as the 500-odd artists who create them. One artist might focus on ancient motifs, while another specializes in lifelike animals. Skill sets are passed down from one generation to the next and materials are derived from nature.
“Grandmothers, cousins, mothers, daughters, sons, etc. partake in the responsibilities of creating and designing the pot,” explained Mayo. “They are mostly hand painted and coiled using ancient methods. The wheel was not invented back then, nor was the potter’s wheel. Clay and volcanic ash for tempering comes from the native land. The paints are made from grounded native minerals and plants such as turquoise and hematite.”
Vidal, who moved to Brooklyn from Paris, has been operating Nouvelle Vague for close to 14 months. A quick glance around the cafe reveals a love of art that goes beyond obscure Mexican pottery — with designer tote bags, jewelry, and crafty coffee sleeves also on display inside.
“The idea is to enjoy art and design in a cozy space,” said Vidal.
Customers may exchange their own reading material for existing selections on the bookshelf. Even furniture swaps are negotiable.
“This is a boutique cafe that knows no waste,” said Vidal.
In this way, Vidal shares similar sensibilities with potters of Mata Ortiz.
“I love the idea of these potters keeping tradition alive,” she said. “They recycle their tools, including their elders’ brushes.”
Mata Ortiz pottery showcase and sale at Nouvelle Vague [468 Lincoln Pl. at Classon Avenue in Prospect Heights, (347) 404–6396, www.nouvel