Southwest Storytellers and Pottery
Southwest Pueblo Indian Storytellers and pottery
My fascination with storytellers began on my first visit to the American Indian Guild Show at the local fairgrounds several years ago. There were weavers, artisans, jewelry makers, and potters selling their creations everywhere. But what really caught my fancy were the seated male and female clay figurines with their mouths open. Each one had its own personality.
There were always children, sometimes lots of children, sitting on laps, perched on the shoulders, on top of heads, or clinging to the back of shawls. The different expressions on the children's faces were unique and so delightful to look at.
I asked one of the vendors what these doll sculptures were and why their mouths were all open. He asked, "Didn't your grandmother ever tell you stories when you were a child?" And so I found out that day that these delightful clay storytellers were started in 1964 by Helen Cordero, a potter from Cochiti, New Mexico, as a tribute to her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, who always told stories to his grandchildren.
And thus started my love affair with pueblo storytellers.
I am showcasing my collection of storytellers and pottery and sharing my sentiments about each one.
Where are the pueblos of New Mexico? - Map of the 19 pueblos and Indian reservations
The Pueblo people are located primarily in New Mexico, however, at one time the Pueblo's homeland reached into the states of Colorado and Arizona. Pueblo people rooted in this region of the southwest are descendants of an indigenous Native American culture that has established itself over many centuries.
The First Storyteller
Helen Cordero gave a new shape to an ancient form.
Where it all started
The original storytellers were male figures modeled after Helen Cordero's grandfather who sang and told stories of Indian heritage and traditions to his grandchildren. The females were known as "Singing Mothers", but later on, storytellers came to mean any clay sculpture that was male or female. Later, animals were incorporated into the term storytellers.
Clay was gathered from a secret sacred place, hand-coiled, handpainted and fired the traditional way in the ground. No molds or kilns were used.
This is a Cochiti female storyteller by DH (Dorothy Herrera). This demure mother does not have her mouth open like the typical storyteller and is holding on to three happy, well-behaved kids.Photo Credit: jennysh_who
Kewa (formely Santo Domingo pueblo) - One cranky baby and a toy doll
This mother storyteller by G. Tenorio appears to be appeasing her restless baby.
Note that even the baby's doll has its mouth open.
Taos Storytellers - My favorite pueblo
This is a large storyteller by Taos potter, Margaret Quintana. I mistook this for a Japanese doll from afar because of its Asian features and hair style. Ten playful children wearing traditional colorful clothing are attentively listening to the songs or stories of this male storyteller.
Cheyenne Jim (Taos pueblo) - Lulling two babies to sleep
This female storyteller by Cheyenne Jim (Diane Lynn) is made of mica clay. Her works are easy to single out as these have a distinctive style and are never painted over except for tiny details. Feathers and leather straps are often incorporated into Cheyenne Jim's storytellers.
Christmas ornament of storyteller with three little ones. "Hush little baby don't you cry"
Acoma Storyteller with three kids - Potter Darlene Lee Vallo
Acoma is often called the " Sky CIty" because it is located atop a mesa in Western New Mexico. The storyteller pottery is made from local slate-like clay and designed with mineral and vegetable-base paint.
This female storyteller, by Darlene Lee Vallo,with three kids, is a caricature with exaggerated eyelashes. The four children look like they are up to no good. I often refer to this storyteller as the Tammy Faye Bakker storyteller doll.
Judy Lewis - Whimsical Acoma storyteller
This delightful storyteller by Judy Lewis shows the gentle nature of the singing mother and her three children. Judy included small details like three gray birds, a butterfly, a crow, and a kitten. Note the tiny lizard, gecko painted on the boy's leg pants. The gecko is one of the good luck symbols of the Southwest.
This Acoma pot is adorned with geckos or tiny lizards, which are native to the southwest, and believed to bring good luck and fortune by many native American tribes. This is a beautiful hand-coiled clay pot signed V.(Virginia) Garcia of the Sun Clan. Virginia is known for her hand-painted lizards on pre-historic pottery.
Geometric small pot
This small traditional Acoma seed pot was painstakingly hand-painted in a black and white geometric design. The artist is Tena Garcia of Acoma, New Mexico.
Nice cutout of the bear claw - Lots of creative details
Good luck symbols - Gecko and bear
This Acoma pot is made of white clay and has a spotted gecko, a bear and a bear paw cutout. This is not a hand-coiled pottery but a greenware pottery poured into a mold. I really like the symbolisms in this piece. The gecko for good luck, the bear for strength and leadership, and the bear paw for direction and power.
Isleta Pueblo Storyteller - Angelic faces
The storytellers from Isleta pueblo have a cherubic countenance and always have their eyes closed. This is a mother storyteller by L.Teller who has lulled her three children and a puppy to sleep with her soothing lullabies.
Isleta storyteller's backside shows her hair tied into a neat bun.
Isleta Pueblo miniature pots - Small details matter
Barely 1 1/2 inches tall, these two miniature handcoiled Isleta pots still charm with the colorful designs.
I bought this storyteller pottery bell from eBay several years ago. It almost looked like a Nativity scene, but at close inspection, this is really a singing mother with three small children and an infant.
Navajo Seed Pot - Yei figures
This is a traditional brown-colored Navajo seed pot with etched Yei figures and cornstalks. The square-head masked figures are females who possess healing powers. The cornstalks represent the signs of life for the ancient Indians of the Southwest.
The pot is painted with melted pinon (pinyon) tree pitch to give it a waterproof glaze. The pinon pine is the New Mexico State tree.
Navajo seed pot backside - Looks like a stairway to heaven
Jemez Pueblo Seed Pot - A master potter's masterpiece
This beautiful seed pot was hand-coiled and handpainted by potter B.J.(Betty Jean) Fragua of the Jemez Corn Clan. The fine piece of buff vase is designed with geometric representations, and a cornstalk, which is a symbol of life. It is the mainstay for many tribes of the southwest pueblo Indians. The texture of the seed pot is extremely smooth and highly polished.
Jemez Pueblo Storyteller with two babies - Potter Lyda Toya - Two is a good number
The majority of my storytellers are from the Pueblo of Jemez, which is one of the 19 pueblos located in New Mexico. Jemez is known for the beautiful red clay used for pottery. The people are internationally known for their arts and crafts.
This is a singing mother storyteller by Lyda Toya with two babies. The painted circles on the cheeks are distinctive characteristics of most of the Jemez storytellers.
Jemez Storyteller with 4 kids - Potter P. Tosa - Fashionable and chic
This caped or hooded storyteller is so fashionable with the painted turquoise earrings and necklace. She has her hands full with four animated boys. Handcoiled and created by potter P. Tosa of Jemez.
Jemez Storyteller with 4 happy girls - Potter L. Tsosie
This female storyteller by L. Tsosie, has four happy girls sitting on their mother's lap; two of them seem to be singing along with mom. Again, note the circles on the cheek.
Jemez Storyteller with 4 babies - Fashionable twist
The braided hair of this mother storyteller gives her a fashionable twist. She has succeeded in lulling her 4 children to sleep.
This one is signed by F.L. of Jemez. Many of the artisans from Jemez bear this same initials, so it is hard to give credit to the creator.
Jemez Storyteller with 5 kids - The more the merrier
This female storyteller, by C. Gapchupin, has kids learning their ABCs. She may be a teacher or babysitter.
This piece was purchased for me by a friend who traveled to New Mexico.
Jemez Storyteller with 6 kids - Potter L.ucero - A handful of ankle biters
This colorful storyteller by L. Lucero has 6 children in various moods. One of them looks like she is tired and cranky and needs an afternoon nap.
Jemez Storyteller with 10 kids - Angelic faces, but not what it seems
This storyteller by Caroline Sando, "Peacock Feathers", was made from natural clay gathered from the sacred grounds within the Jemez Pueblo. There are eight round-faced kids sitting contentedly on her lap. But wait, look around, there may be more.
Two of ten kids - Playing hide-and-seek
Two little ones are clinging to their mother's cape at the back.
Jemez storyteller with 15 kids - Kids galore
This storyteller by potter H. Sando has real turquoise nuggets for her earrings and necklace. She is shown also flanked by 13 kids in front.
Or are there more?
Don't lose count now - There are more kids hiding
Aha! Two mischievous kids are hiding in the back, clinging to the storyteller's sash. Fifteen rambunctious kids all in all!
Jemez Storyteller with 33 children - This one takes the cake
This is my largest storyteller by Caroline Sando, and also the most prolific. With 33 kids stacked up to her neck, this storyteller seems to be making a roll call rather than singing or telling stories. Real turquoise cabochons were used for the jewelery.
History and tradition behind Pueblo storytellers
Great book for the whole family
This is a wonderful book with beautiful photographs that children can relate to. It shows the step by step process of how pots are made, from digging for clay to firing the pots. It shows how the modern American Pueblo Indian family lives and works together, and a bit of history of the pueblo potters.
Pueblo storytellers and pottery Links - Invaluable information
- THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE: THE FIRST STORYTELLER
In 1964 Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo created a first in what was to become a favorite collecting category.
- Pueblo Pottery - guide to New Mexico pueblo pottery styles
An overview guide to New Mexico pueblo pottery styles. Find out how Pueblo Pottery is made step-by-step.
- THE COLLECTOR'S GUIDE: WHAT DOES THIS INDIAN SYMBOL MEAN
Decorative and symbolic, here are a few Indian symbols seen frequently
- Storyteller Dolls and Their Little Listeners | Jerrie Hurd Takes Family History Seriously . . .
Jerrie Hurd Takes Family History Seriously . . .
Once of the most in demand collector's book
The Great Photo Shoot
This is collection of various Southwest Indian storytellers from the 19 pueblos and 3 reservations in New Mexico. Each artist has his or her own distinctive style. See if you can identify some of the pueblos from where these storytellers came from based on the photos from my own collection. It will be a challenge to own a storyteller or pottery from every pueblo.