Skip Navigation

Storyteller Pottery Sculpture

Helen Cordero

Arts of the Americas

MEDIUM Clay, pigment
DATES 1987
DIMENSIONS 12 x 8 1/4 x 10 in. (30.5 x 21 x 25.4 cm)  (show scale)
SIGNATURE Signed: "Helen Cordero Cochiti, N. M.".
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
CREDIT LINE Gift of Joann and Sidney Rosoff
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Helen Cordero, Cochiti Pueblo, invented the concept of the Storyteller figure in 1964. She had been working with leather crafts but the poor income discouraged her. She felt her skills were not great enough to be a classical potter so when her cousin mentioned why didn’t she try doing figures, something that this Pueblo had done a great deal of in the 19th century, Cordero thought she could try. Effigies, small fetishes and charms made of stone, wood or clay are part of numerous ceremonies functioning to help maintain the balances between the natural, supernatural, and social order of things. But in the 19th century a commercial genre developed through encouragement of the Trading Posts. These Pueblo sculptures were generally small figures of a singing woman holding a baby, a water bowl or platter; small, singing figures sitting cross-legged; or a standing male singing a song with one hand on their hip and another to their head. We have one such early male example from the late 19th century in our collection (02.257.2473.) When Cordero thought of a new subject for her first sculpture she envisioned her Grandfather. He was a famous storyteller and she had fond memories of him gathering all grandchildren around and relating stories to them as well as singing the songs associated with the characters. So Helen made two significant modifications in the singing mother tradition. She modeled a sitting male figure and placed a realistic number of children on him. Almost immediately her figures brought her acclaim and success. She won first, second and third prizes at the New Mexico State Fair, SWAIA’s first prize in Santa Fe, and first at the Heard Indian Market. She often did sculpture modeling demonstrations all over the country in Museums, international exhibitions and galleries. In fact, her sculptures have generated and entire category of Native American pottery for which Cochiti Pueblo has become renowned. Helen continued making figures for over twenty years, always with a male figure, his eyes closed because he is thinking and he has numerous children scrambling all over him, in fact up to as many as 32. (This one has 14 children). Each large figure however is different wearing different clothes and jewelry, angled slightly differently, not a formulaic size, and each child was different in the same way. All are hand modeled. This storyteller, fashioned in 1987, is the last one Helen Cordero ever did and originally she was going to keep it. The collector visited her in her home and they got along so well she agreed to sell it. It is a large example done when Helen was at her very best. Strong, solid looking male figure, closed eyes, open mouth, necklace, headband, using colors Helen preferred of warm natural rust, black and cream, with delightful children - embodies all the very best of Helen’s artistry. The Museum actually does not have a story teller figure in the collection although our contemporary Roxanne Swentzell piece “Making Babies for Indian Market” is an ironic ‘take’ on this genre. This sculpture could be used in exhibitions featuring Native American or cross-cultural works: the human figure, pottery, invention of new genres, spoken language, storytelling, song, and children in art - the list if large. Susan Kennedy Zeller, Ph.D. Associate Curator of Native American Art
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Helen Cordero (Ko–Tyit (Cochiti Pueblo), 1915–1994). Storyteller Pottery Sculpture, 1987. Clay, pigment, 12 x 8 1/4 x 10 in. (30.5 x 21 x 25.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Joann and Sidney Rosoff, 2012.26.1. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2012.26.1_front_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE front, 2012.26.1_front_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
RIGHTS STATEMENT © artist or artist's estate
Copyright for this work may be controlled by the artist, the artist's estate, or other rights holders. A more detailed analysis of its rights history may, however, place it in the public domain. The Museum does not warrant that the use of this work will not infringe on the rights of third parties. It is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions before copying, transmitting, or making other use of protected items beyond that allowed by "fair use," as such term is understood under the United States Copyright Act. For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.