Storytellers in Words and Clay
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Librarian and Archivist Jonna Paden (Acoma, Laguna) explains that as the months grow colder and the days shorter, people take to indoor activities. Traditionally, winter is when Pueblo storytelling occurred. Intergenerational family members had more time together, and well as community gatherings.
Indigenous storytelling is often oral – stories, songs, chants, and prayers – and suffused with rituals and spiritual nature. It is the oldest form of knowledge transfer from generation to generation. Visual storytelling takes the form of sculptures, pottery, paintings, petroglyphs, and physical movement.
Indigenous storytelling is more than entertainment and something to pass the time. History, values, beliefs, origins, and identity are embedded in Indigenous stories. Stories teach about life, relationships, and interconnections.
Stories are a timeline that connects the past, present, and future. Stories are about identity – who you are in relation to your clan and community – and the continuity of that identity. Stories are tied to place – from how you got here to how to use natural resources for survival and what dangerous places to avoid.
In some cultures, storytellers are born into the responsibility of properly learning the stories and passing the knowledge to succeeding generations. Those chosen to be storytellers are trained and apprenticed and are given the right to know and share the traditional knowledge.
Storytelling can be song, dance, and reenactments. And can include non-spoken communication such as petroglyphs and artistic mediums: pottery, paintings, sand art, body painting, carving, and weaving. Contemporary storytelling has expanded to various forms like comics , graphic novels, illustrated books, videogames, and digital storytelling. These stories are told to raise awareness of social problems. It can be a source of healing and a testimony of resilience.
Storytellers and Figurines
Native American and Pueblo people of the Southwest have been making clay pottery figures since ancient times. Their creation was discouraged by Christian missionaries and the form was not widely practiced in the 16th-19th centuries. Figurative pottery was revived in the 20th century and clay figurines have since become one of the most popular and widely collected Native American art forms.
Storytellers are a type of clay figure that is unique to the Southwest. They were developed by Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo in 1963 and traditionally depict a male elder telling stories to children, all with open mouths. Cordero was inspired by the traditional “Singing Mother” figure often represented in clay, and by her grandfather, a legendary Cochiti storyteller. In Pueblo culture, stories are passed down orally from generation to generation, and the Storyteller figure represents the importance of the storytelling tradition.
Today, Native artists across the Southwest create Storytellers, sometimes depicting the elder and children as clowns, drummers, acrobats, cowboys or animals, and handcrafted figurative pottery continues to be one of the most exciting, colorful and successful pottery forms.
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At a time when many commercially made products are being sold as handcrafted Native American art, our in-depth purchase process allows us to guarantee the authenticity of every unique piece of fine art we offer. For more than 45 years, we have made it a priority to visit artists in their studio or home to purchase their latest handcrafted pieces and learn about their work. We have developed lasting relationships with artists, as well as dealers and collectors, and we take pride in being a trusted destination for fine Native American art.