The Origin of Storyteller Scenes on Native American Jewelry

Storytelling is an important part of many cultures. Traditions, rituals, and historic events are passed on orally.

Navajo Sterling Silver Storyteller Link Bracelet by Tillie Jon

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.

Navajo Storyteller Bracelet by Francis Tabaha

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).

Clarence Lee

Tommy Singer

Tillie Jon

Lloyd and Floyd Bicenti

Francis Tabaha

Richard Singer

Tom and Sue Kee

Marie Bahe, and others.

Here are some examples of a few of those artists’ works.

Tommy Singer

Tom and Sue Kee

Marie Bahe

Richard Singer

Tommy Singer

Richard SInger

Traditional scenes include

The Hogan

Home Life



Traveling by wagon

The Horse



The Campfire

Southwest Scenery

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.


5 thoughts on “The Origin of Storyteller Scenes on Native American Jewelry

  1. Pingback: Navajo Artists Tom and Sue Kee – Storyteller Specialists « Native American Jewelry Tips

  2. Pingback: Story time | Love from Juliana

  3. Interested in purchasing a finely carved storytelling ring. Please let me know avaialability or if one of the Native American artists would custom make for me. Thanks,

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