Storyteller figures are popular collector’s items that are made by potters from a variety of different pueblos of the American Southwest. Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo has been credited with originating the concept and design of the storyteller figure. The seated form of the storyteller was inspired by the “Singing Mother” effigy—the figure of a seated mother with a round, open mouth, holding a child in her arms—which was an earlier Cochiti ceramic tradition. Cordero’s first storyteller figure, created in 1964, adapted the “Singing Mother” form into a male figure with many children seated atop him, inspired by childhood memories of the children of her pueblo climbing onto her grandfather to listen to him tell the traditional stories of the Cochiti culture. Other American Southwest cultures have similar oral traditions where men of the Pueblo perform a ceremonial and instructional role as narrators of the culture’s myths and legends. Many surrounding pueblo cultures have adopted the storyteller figure and adapted its design to their own individual styles.
This specific storyteller figure was made by an artist from the Jemez Pueblo. During the 1970s, Jemez potters went from crafting under-fired pieces that were painted with poster paints, for the tourist trade, to developing high-quality, hand-built pottery that draws both on traditional American Southwest styles and on innovative new forms. Jemez artisans are often inspired by the ceramic art of neighboring pueblos, and they are now well-known for their own storyteller figure designs. This figure is identifiable as a Jemez piece primarily because of the pigment colors used, as Cochiti storytellers are traditionally painted with a decorative white slip, while Jemez storytellers typically use a tan body slip.
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu