Helen Cordero (Ko-Tyit (Cochiti Pueblo), 1915-1994). <em>Storyteller Pottery Sculpture</em>, 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)

Storyteller Pottery Sculpture

Artist:Helen Cordero

Medium: Clay, pigment

Geograhical Locations:


Dimensions: 12 x 8 1/4 x 10 in. (30.5 x 21 x 25.4 cm)



Accession Number: 2012.26.1

Image: 2012.26.1_front_PS9.jpg,

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

Brooklyn Museum