Story

Storyteller Drawings

By Melanie Robinson, posted on Oct 5, 2022

During midwinter, storyteller and retired art teacher Sue Hinkel visits our school and tells stories to the third-graders. She also shares her outstanding collection of Native American clay storyteller figures. Students then learn about the art of Native American storyteller figures and how the tradition of creating them began with Helen Cordero. Once students were familiar with the concept and acquired the background knowledge for storytellers, we asked them to create their own unique drawings of nontraditional storytellers.


SchoolArts magazine, The Story Issue, November 2022, elementary art lesson, Storyteller drawings
Savannah Y.
SchoolArts magazine, The Story Issue, November 2022, elementary art lesson, Storyteller drawings
Julie M.
SchoolArts magazine, The Story Issue, November 2022, elementary art lesson, Storyteller drawings
Rebekah S.
SchoolArts magazine, The Story Issue, November 2022, elementary art lesson, Storyteller drawings
Bella C.

Each year, there is a storytelling festival in our area. My school has been lucky enough during the past ten years to partner with this amazing group of people who come from all over the United States to tell stories to children and adults.

During midwinter, storyteller and retired art teacher Sue Hinkel visits our school and tells stories to the third-graders. She also shares her outstanding collection of Native American clay storyteller figures. Students then learn about the art of Native American storyteller figures and how the tradition of creating them began with Helen Cordero.

Cochiti Potter Helen Cordero
Helen Cordero was born in 1915 in Cochiti Pueblo in Northern New Mexico. During the 1950s, she and her cousin began to create pottery and ceramic pieces. Cordero did not feel accomplished as a potter, so her cousin suggested that she try making hollow clay figures of “singing mothers.” Cordero’s storytellers typically have open mouths and closed eyes, with children climbing all over the figure to listen. Many of Cordero╩╝s figures were inspired by her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, a noted storyteller.

Once Cordero became successful at making storytellers, other Native Americans did, too. Traditionally, the more listeners the storyteller figure had, the higher the piece was valued. Today you can find similar traditions across times and cultures, both two- and three-dimensional, for comparison and contrast.

Drawing Storytellers
Once students were familiar with the concept and acquired the background knowledge for storytellers, we asked them to create their own unique drawings of nontraditional storytellers. Beginning with a sketch of ideas, students created their own characters and added listeners. Students were encouraged to use their imaginations and break from the norm. Many students took their sketches to surreal and fantastical places. One student drew a tree as the storyteller with shrubs and clouds as the listeners. One student said, “I like that one certain object (not a person or animal) was telling the story and someone else was listening.” Other students kept with the traditional idea of a storyteller being a person or animal.

Our storyteller drawings were displayed during the St. Louis Storytellers Festival, sponsored by Missouri University Extension, adding an element of visual storytelling to the event. The pictures then traveled around to a variety of venues before they were returned almost a year later!

Melanie Robinson is an art teacher at Cedar Springs Elementary in House Springs, Missouri. MRobinson@NorthWestSchools.net

National Standard
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.

Resource
Helen Cordero video

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