Storytelling is an important part of many cultures. Traditions, rituals, and historic events are passed on orally.
In the first half of the 1900’s Helen Cordero of the Cochiti Pueblo used a storyteller motif in her ceramic pieces. Usually her storytellers would be a Pueblo woman telling stories to a group of children who were gathered around.
In this way the language and culture are kept alive.
Since the 1960’s a new type of storyteller art emerged, partly in response to the desire of non-Native Americans to have some sort of Indian folk art to display or wear. Storyteller jewelry pieces are generally overlay (see explanation of overlay at the end of this article). Each figure is cut out then placed onto a contrasting background and finished in place. A very painstaking and delicate process.
The idea was embraced by Navajo silversmiths and made popular by such artists as (click on the artist to see a sample of his or her work).
Marie Bahe, and others.
Here are some examples of a few of those artists’ works.
Traditional scenes include
Traveling by wagon
A Day in the Life of a Man, Woman, Horse, Bear and so on……..
What is Overlay?
Overlay pieces are made of two layers. The bottom layer is a solid sterling silver piece. The top layer has a cutout design. The cutout is placed over the bottom layer and the two pieces are “sweated” together, that is heated so that they become one.
The bottom layer (background to the cutout) is usually accented. The Navajo silversmiths oxidize the bottom layer which darkens it. Hopi silversmiths oxidize and etch the background (texturize it) with hashmarks.