Native American Storyteller Figurines
The storyteller is an adaptation of centuries-old creations in figurine pottery. In tribes with no written language, cultural traditions and values historically have been passed on by tribal elders through songs and stories geared to teaching the young. This is not a gender-based job; in fact, it is a high honor to be a “storyteller” in the Pueblo. The storyteller is tasked with the responsibility of passing on personal, religious and cultural history to each child in the Pueblo, preserving history for future generations and ensuring continuity with the past. They are the guardians of the stories of their ancestors. These sculptures show the storyteller singing the stories and, in many cases, the little ones seem to be paying little attention. It is in these delightful representations that the intense love of the Native American Indians for their children is clearly shown.
From ancient times, clay figures were present in the Pueblo pottery tradition. Figurines, especially human female figures, were an integral element in the Anasazi culture. Between 1500 and 1875 there is little evidence of figurative work because missionaries and then scholars discouraged and denounced the making of figurative clay pieces. However, since that time figurative sculpture has flourished, especially at Cochiti and Jemez Pueblos, both just south of Santa Fe, in the forms of animals, birds, clowns, caricatures of outsiders and, more recently, images of mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers telling stories and singing to children. With the coming of the railroad to New Mexico in the late 1800s, Native American artists delighted in mimicking their new visitors in storyteller sculptures, and their caricatures included supplicating padres, tourists, businessmen, cowboys and dancing bears.
Storytellers are one example of contemporary hand built Pueblo pottery. Creating them is an art and a spiritual undertaking, in which the gathering of local clays and of native plants and minerals used for painting, are meaningful and sacred events. Built, smoothed and shaped by hand, polished with a stone, fired in an outdoor self-consuming kiln, and decorated with ancient designs are all a part of the potter’s journey. The storyteller tells the story.
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