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Family & Balikbayan Escape

Casa San Pablo Storyteller Dolls

Apr
27

In 1964, a woman from Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico, Helen Cordero, created a storyteller doll in representation of her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, who, during her childhood, would gather the children of the pueblo to them them stories of their ancestors. The doll was like no other ever created in her pueblo.

Helen Cordero left the mouth of the storyteller open to let the stories out. She left the eyes close. Her storyteller was always thinking of the next thing in the story. The listeners were climbing the storyteller’s braids, peeking over his head, sliding down his arms. Wisdom she believed came into the world not because it was spoken but because it was heard.

So captivating were Helen Cordero’s creations that it spawned followers and collectors.

In 2008, I discovered Helen Cordero and her dolls while browsing through books at Ugu Bigyan’s studio, where I was taking pottery lessons. I felt a jolt within me when I saw this doll. There was an instant connection, as if I had found discovered something from my past.  My heart raced, I couldn’t hold my tears back. Here before me, in a most endearing form, were clay shapes that captured what I had always wanted to express — people stories.

I had known from the first time I touched clay at lessons with Lanelle Abueva that I had an affinity for it. Just the touch of wet clay made me feel like I had always belonged to it. Even then, I knew I would work with clay but not for bowls, plates or vases, but on playful figures. I just didn’t know what yet, until I found the storytellers. I am convinced that I am Helen’s cosmic daughter.

Pursuing my lessons further with Jon and Tessie Pettyjohn, I found myself creating figures from stories I had heard from San Pablo. Some of the people I’ve met in San Pablo are the best storytellers I have ever met. As a young bride, I eagerly listened to their stories, and enjoyed the cast of characters that made them alive. My storyteller dolls are to be people from San Pablo.