Friday, January 21, 2011

Storyteller Dolls, Part 1

Since I'm stuck here at home for another week or so, I went back through some photos from last year to get an idea for a new post. I'll be starting clay projects soon after my return and one of my favorites from last year was the storyteller dolls done with 4th graders.

Storytellers are clay figures. Most figures appear to be singing or talking. Often, the main figure has many smaller figures (usually children) listening while sitting on its lap or clinging to it.

In many Native American cultures, stories of the previous generations were passed on orally rather than through a written language. The telling of stories was a way for the elders to teach the young members of a tribe their ways.

Helen Cordero is the most famous Storyteller doll maker. She was born in 1915 at the Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico. She started making clay figures because making pots was too hard for her.

Today the word “Storyteller” means any figure that is covered with children or baby animals.

Many Storytellers have drums. Drums signify the rhythm of the stories, with each beat making a pattern that can be chanted.

There are often distinct patterns in Storytellers. These designs tell a story, too. Sometimes a motif has a special meaning or is a marking for a specific group or family.

Storyteller artists pass on their special patterns to their children, just like the storytellers pass on their stories.

For our unit, we started out with a Keynote presentation which I developed from the book "Helen Cordero and the Storytellers of Cochiti Pueblo".

Another excellent resource is the book, "Pueblos Stories and Storytellers".

Students learned about the meaning and historical reference of storytellers, the wide variety of storytellers from pueblo to pueblo and the distinct qualities that they shared.

Students learned that storyteller figures could be male or female human forms as well as animal forms.

Some figures were a combination of human and animal.

On the first day of this lesson, in addition to the Keynote presentation, students were given a variety of handouts featuring storytellers and worked with a partner to discern the 'clues' artists gave the viewer.

Male figures usually wore a headband and carried a drum...

while females were often depicted wearing a skirt/dress and carried a bowl for food.

The information learned was used to fill out handouts which they would use to develop their own storyteller doll.

In my next post I'll take you through the step-by-step process of constructing the storyteller...


  1. Heh, heh, heh... good to see my books are doing well... How much do I get for the overdue fines?

  2. Hmmm...I'm sure we can work something out!


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