This is a wonderful time to consider Native American storyteller figurines as an area of collecting interest for lovers of historic pueblo pottery. In this case, history, in a sense begins in 1964 when Helen Cordero created the first Native American storyteller figurine. Of course, satiric and comical ceramic figures from Cochiti pueblo are documented for sale to tourists as early as the 1870’s (see figure 3 in Barbara Babcock’s classic work “The Pueblo Storyteller” and in the Wheelwright Museum exhibit catalog called “Clay People”).
This tradition did not die. In the 1930’s-1950’s, a number of artists at Cochiti (Damacia Cordero, Teresita Romero, Laurencita Herrera and Helen Cordero for example) were producing Native American animal figurines and adult figures holding drums or pots (called Singing Ladies, according to Babcock) or singing to a baby in their arms. The latter came to be known as “singing mothers”.
In 1964, Alexander Girard commissioned Helen Cordero a well known Cochiti potter even then, to create the first Native American storyteller figurine (see image in Babcock, plate 3, p. 95) effectively “creating a new genre of pueblo pottery” in Babcock’s words.
Today, Helen Cordero Native American storytellers are a great collectible, often commanding $10,000-20,000 and upwards. While wonderful, they are often beyond the budget of many collectors today.
So there is an opportunity for us in the work of those Native American figurative potters who preceded Helen Cordero and those who were her contemporaries. Like Helen, these potters used traditional materials (clay, slip, paint) and fired traditionally outdoors in most cases. Using Babcock as a source, in addition to the artists named above, these potters include in no certain order: Mary Francis Herrera, Josephine Laweka, Marie Laweka, Francis Naranjo Suina, Dorothy Trujillo, George Cordero, Louis (and Virginia) Naranjo, Felipa Trujillo, Marie G. Romero (with her mother Persingula Gachupin) who made the first storytellers at Jemez Pueblo in 1968, and others.
An adjunct to this collecting approach is the very recent shortage and near disappearance of the old Cochiti white slip. If the slip disappears entirely (and several potters that I spoke with at Indian Market 2010 spoke of being completely out or near so) the color that was produced by outdoor firing of this old slip will disappear. For that reason, the current work of veteran artists such as Ada Suina, Mary and Leonard Trujillo, Martha Arquero among others may fundamentally change in the very near future. For this reason, I was buying actively from each of these artists at 7:00 a.m. this year as Indian Market opened. The works of these and other wonderful artists await you by clicking on the Native American storyteller site above. Please enjoy.