What is it?
This Storyteller Figure is an example of a style of pottery figure, created to show the importance of family and storytelling within native communities. This version features a (grownup) seated figure, with two smaller figures (children) situated in the main figure's arm and lap. The figure is made of polychrome pottery that includes many earth-tone colors. The exact date of creation is uncertain, but it was almost certainly made after 1964, when this form developed, and has been with the DAM since 1997.
Who made it?
Josephine Arquero, a contemporary Cochiti Pueblo (New Mexico) artist, was born in 1928 into a family of potters, including her mom, Damacia Cordero, and her sisters, Marth Arquero, Marie Laweka, and Gloria Herrera. Much of Josephine’s work demonstrates a simplified, yet clean and elegant approach, through smooth surfaces and bold lines. Her style is much like her mother’s, with a focus on storytellers, nacimientos (nativity scenes), and animals.
What inspired it?
Our Storyteller Figure belongs to a larger tradition of this form which was reenergized and reimagined in 1964 by Helen Cordero, a Cochiti artist. She was originally influenced by the traditional “Singing Mother” form (singing mother with listening child on their lap) which she changed to depict her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, accompanied by 5 grandchildren. These types of figures are identified as clay forms, whether human or animal. Small storyteller figures, similar to this one, are made for decorative purposes and tourism. Though male storytellers are more traditional with artists from the Cochiti tribe, artists from other tribes developed their own figurative style and approach, relating to their cultural identity and history.
The main figure’s open mouth signifies the act of telling a story to the smaller figures. Storytellers in many tribes present and maintain the oral history of their particular people, culture, and/or society. Values, character, morals, and customs are often taught through the act of storytelling, connecting the present to the past. The storyteller is usually a gender neutral role within the community and tends to be assigned to an elderly figure within the family/tribe.
The definition of "family" varies widely from culture to culture. American Indian tribes sometimes include community members, friends, and teachers as part of their kinship. Many societies focus on and demonstrate interdependence in how they interact with their family, community, and the world around them. Families are held together through their cultural history and traditions. Younger family members often look to older generations for guidance and to educate them on the past, as a way to inform their present and future.
Storytellers are typically built by hand using a coiling technique and local materials, including clay, plants and minerals (for pigmentation). This is then fired in an outdoor kiln. The colors are made by painting slips (clay thinned with water and colored by natural minerals) directly onto the figure.