The Cochiti pueblo lies on the banks of the Rio Grande River, between Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. This pueblo existed before the Spanish entrada. Tradition includes them in a group of prehistoric Anasazi.
Cochiti potters participated in the tourist trade at the turn of the Century, including some work in the area of making figurines. They continued to make traditional pottery, usually cream to white slipped grey-ware, with polychrome designs. Then the Cochiti Reservoir was built in the early 1960s. The lake covered their primary source of clay, and they turned to other sources. About this same time, they turned heavily to emphasizing ceramic caricature figures.
In April, 1972, for their front cover, Sunset Magazine featured a Helen Cordero storyteller grandfather with children; and Cochiti storytellers became instantly the hot, new collector item. Helen's prices went from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Now deceased, her storytellers go for several thousand dollars, like nine or ten thousand dollars and up.
She credited her grandfather, a master storyteller, for her inspiration. As her first storyteller ceramic, she portrayed him with grandchildren sitting around or hanging on to him. Later she added the grandmother and the drummer. Her success led other Cochiti potters to join the vogue. Certainly everyone is charmed by these whimsical caricatures, us included.
On a more affordable plane, we feature who we think are today's three best makers of Cochiti storytellers—Mary Trujillo, Ada Suina, and Dorothy Herrera. All of these ladies were contemporaries of, and coached by Helen Cordero.
To order, call 1-800-401-1192, 1-520-529-5545 if you are out of the United States, or go to our
- All dimensions are approximate. -
Cochiti's Best Storytellers
The potter who made Cochiti storytellers famous was Helen Cordero. In our opinion, there are two of her contemporaries who still equal Helen in quality, and those two are Ada Suina and Mary Trujillo. We present Ada and Mary here.
Item# P836-Ada Suina, Cochiti
Item# P861-Mary Trujillo, Cochiti
Storyteller grandfather. Mary came up with the idea for this storyteller by remembering her own grandfather, who told tribal chants and stories to the beat of his drum. Her grandfather always wore a black hat with no creases, just like this grandfather. The drum, here, is made by Mary's husband, Leonard. It is hollowed out cottonwood, with rawhide drum heads.
Size: 11" sitting height.
Item# P685 -Mary Trujillo, Cochiti
Item# P687-Mary Trujillo, Cochiti
Since the Indians had no written language, the elders passed on history and ceremonies by songs and chants. This grandfather is playing the drum and singing in the classic tradition of storytelling. This is the way his grandchildren were taught.
Size: 7 1/4" sitting height.
Price: $800 SOLD.
Item# P142-Mary Trujillo, Cochiti
Grandfather drummer, wooden drum is covered with real hide, includes drumstick. Mary's husband, Leonard, makes the drums and helps with making up the clay. He has had experience with making up pottery clay, since he did this for his mother, Helen Cordero.
Size: 10 1/2" high by 8" width.
Price: $1,200 SOLD.
Here is a larger grandmother storyteller. This one has 10 children, one holding a basketball, one holding a baseball bat. Dorothy is the daughter of deceased Cochiti potter Mary Frances Herrera. Mary Frances started making storytellers in the years after Helen Cordero invented the form at Cochiti in 1964. After Dorothy's mother passed away in 1990, Dorothy was able to continue and expand upon her mother's work. She has brought a great deal of creativity to the figurative style of pottery for which Cochiti Pueblo is so well known.
Size: 9 1/2" sitting height.
Price: $1,200 SOLD.
Item# P451 -Dorothy Herrera, Cochiti.
Grandfather storyteller bear with eight cubs. The Cochiti bear is a recent form of storyteller made popular by potters in this pueblo. We love this one in overalls! Dorothy is a younger generation potter making her way in the Herrera tradition. This is one of the most famous families in Cochiti pottery, in fact the only Cochiti family listed in the popular reference, "Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery," by Rick Dillingham.
Size: 6" high by 4" 1/4" wide.
Item# P450 -Dorothy Herrera, Cochiti.
For More Storytellers, click here,
and we will take you to our Acoma Storyteller section.
To order, call 1-800-401-1192, 1-520-721-8757 if you are out of the United States, or go to our
- All dimensions are approximate. -
The icon of Cochiti storyteller potters is definitely Helen Cordero. Find one of her pieces and you have found a treasure. And, to us, the thing that made her figures stand out was the expressions she put on their faces, both the grandfathers and the grandmothers. She also did nativity scenes (Nacimientos).
Today's best storyteller potters include Mary Trujillo, Ada Suina, and Dorothy Herrera. Others include family members of the above, plus excellent potters like Virginia Naranjo, Inez Ortiz, and Martha Arquero.
Above all, one thing sets the Cochiti potters apart—they have fun with their whimsical characters, poking jests at themselves, and at the Anglo tourists as well. For a break in tradition, have a Cochiti storyteller in your collection!
- Recommended reading - Check Amazon.com. They stock most of these titles.
- Southern Pueblo Pottery, 2,000 Artist Biographies by Gregory Schaaf, CIAC Press, $110 (hard back);
- Southwestern Pottery, Anasazi to Zuni by Allan Hayes and John Blom, Northland Publishing, $21.95(paper);
- Fourteen Families in Pueblo Pottery, by Rick Dillingham, University of New Mexico Press, $37.50 (paper);
- Hopi Pottery Symbols by Alex Patterson, Johnson Books, $17.95 (paper);
- Nampeyo and her Legacy by Barbara Kramer, University of New Mexico Press, $39.95 (cloth);
- Talking with the Clay, by Stephen Trimble, $15.95 (paper);
- Pueblo Storyteller by Barbara A. Babcock, $25.95 (paper);
- Generations In Clay, by Alfred E. Dittert, Jr., and Fred Plog, Northland Press;
- Living Tradition of Maria Martinezby Susan Peterson, $45.00 (paper)