The Storyteller Doll
I recall my New Mexican days in the early ‘70’s, walking toward the plaza in Santa Fe after midnight, wandering all the deserted streets…the smell of piñon drifting through the air, a comforting cobalt blue sky above, a sense of mountains in the distance, the earthiness of everything within reach. The writer-in-me alive, in place…living the story.
My treks to Santa Fe became an annual journey, a force of habit, a place to see the world in a different light, develop my Midwestern sense of art in new ways, thanks to friends Ross and Arlene LewAllen who took me under their wings, introduced me to the painters, poets, potters, photographers, sculptors, weavers, jewelers, crafts-people of all sorts, a never-ending story of life in passionate pursuit of art. I absorbed everything I could about the place…history, literature, language, geography. Restaurants, bookstores, galleries, schools. The three cultures: Anglo, Native American, Latino. Just who was doing what. Something new. Something, someone always different. An Anglo painter, A New Mexican carver. A Native American artist, potter.
I recall yet another satisfying evening of friends, food, drink…good old fashioned, soul searching conversation, the pursuit of art, love, happiness and everything that mattered among like-minded souls gathered together at any number of favorite haunts—La Posada, the Pink Adobe, the La Fonda, the Bull Ring, Evangelo’s, the Ore House, the Plaza Bar. Loud talk, laughter, sometimes Spanish guitar music (El Farol on Canyon Road)… sometimes warmth enough from glowing adobe fireplaces to nurture tomorrow’s dream, past, present, future—a particular reverence for the past because it was Santa Fe, the Old Santa Fe Trail…the living past…the historical, mystical, native southwest…where the story for me, for then (now still) came together, wove itself before one’s eyes like a Navajo tapestry.
What else had we been doing all night but telling stories?
I recall seeing a doll in one of the shop windows in one of my after midnight sojourns down the streets of Santa Fe. A seated clay pottery figure…eyes closed, mouth open, children climbing all over it, clinging to arms and shoulders, lined up along the legs.
Entranced: the seated figure…the children…me.
What is going on here?
I didn’t know then it was called the Storyteller Doll. Though obviously Native American, I didn’t know then where it came from, who made it, what it cost. I didn’t purchase one then—though I wish I had now. I could not afford it then—a hundred dollars at least. (Valued over ten thousand dollars now for an early one.)
Some years later (more storyteller dolls in evidence all over Santa Fe), I learn that Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo made the first Storyteller Doll around 1964 when she was forty years old and grew tired of making pots. I learned that the doll was created in honor of her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, who was a tribal storyteller…passing down the legends of his people, keeping the stories alive.
“As conceived by Helen Cordero, the clay Storyteller is itself the material expression of regeneration: the very structure of this large figure alive with small children re-enacts this reproductive dynamic; its proportions are, indeed, social proportions; and its subject is explicitly relationship—between generations, between past and future, and between words and things. “We are,” as she has said, “all in there, in the clay.”—Barbara A. Babcock, Guy and Doris Monthan, THE PUEBLO STORYTELLER
This is where I come in This is where you come in. This is the work of the writer. This is the connection to the Storyteller Doll.
This is the beginning,