Native American Storytellers ~ Singing Mothers
“The inventor of the Storyteller form is Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, though the tradition of figurative pottery predates Helen by many centuries. In their excellent book, “The Pueblo Storyteller’, Barbara Babcock, and Guy and Doris Monthan date figurative pottery in the Southwest to perhaps as early 300 B.C. and certainly as early as 400 A.D. among the Anasazi, the predecessors of today’s Pueblo Indians.
Helen Cordero was born in 1915. In the 1950s she was making “Singing Mother” figures. These were sitting female figures holding one or two children on their laps. They were quite popular and were made by many Cochiti potters. In 1964, Helen Cordero made the innovation which would prove to be a milestone in figurative pottery. Instead of the traditional female figure, she modeled one after her grandfather, Santiago Quintana. The grandfather storyteller, his mouth open and five children clinging to him, was an endearing figure and the public sought more. We have learned that Helen Cordero believes that the true storyteller is a male figure, and that female figures are properly called “Singing Mothers.” As their creator she certainly is an authority on the subject of storytellers, but the form she began has taken on a life of its own. More and more people are making storytellers, at Cochiti, the surrounding pueblos, and even from other peoples like the Navajo, Blackfoot, and Hispanics. The term “storyteller” has become generic and is used to describe not only male figures, but females, clowns, mudheads, frogs, owls, turtles, coyotes …nearly any figure that has an adult figure surrounded by or covered with children.”
From “Storytellers and Other Figurative Pottery” by Douglas Congdon-Martin. Published by Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pennsylvania.