The Pueblo Storyteller Figurine
The Storyteller figurine evolved from a centuries-old tradition of figurine pottery at Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. Pottery in the form of figurines, effigy vessels and nonfigurative shapes is found in all prehistoric Pueblo cultures and dates from at least 300 A.D. The time honored Indian Pueblo pottery tradition of working with clay and telling stories has merged into a modern art form of the Storyteller pottery dolls.
The Keres Pueblo of Cochiti is the primary production center of figurines. The most famous artist of Chochiti is Helen Cordero. When she began making pottery as an alternative to leather and beadwork in the late 1950's, her bowls "never came out right" so she began shaping small human and animal figurines. One of those was a "Singing Mother" with children seated all around. Helen recalls that singing mother reminded her of her grandfather (Santiago Quintana), who gathered his grandchildren around him to play the drum, sing them songs, and tell stories of their Indian heritage and traditions.
It was in 1964, that Helen Cordero shaped the first Storyteller thus initiating a revolution in contemporary Pueblo pottery: 1. She made the primary figure male rather than female, and 2. She placed more than a realistic number of children on him - the first storyteller had 5 children: subsequent ones have had as many as 50.
Due to the great demand of collectors and the fact that storytellers speak in terms of cultural constants, stories relating to creation, history, religion and the persistent problems of community organization and survival. the popularity of the figures has grown so that today at least 50 potters in Cochiti Pueblo alone produce storytellers. Other popular Storytellers are of other than human forms, such as, a variety of animals, corn, moccasins, etc. Indian potters also create and Indian "Nacimiento" (Nativity Scene) depicting what their version of the birth of the Christ Child must have appeared to them.
The Storyteller doll is a modern icon of a centuries-old tradition, emerging like the stories themselves from the soil of the Southwest and shaped into social and cultural proportions. Like their subjects, Storytellers have themselves become a means of bringing and keeping Pueblo People together, and like the stories, these potteries are significant statements of ethnic identity.
Prices of Storytellers may vary from a few dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the popularity, fame, and awards the artist has won in art shows, galleries and fairs. Of the Cochiti potters making Storytellers some of the finest are Ada Suina, Mary and Dorothy Trujillo and Stephanie Rhoades. In the Jemez Pueblo, Mary and Judy Toya have also joined in producing high quality figurines.