When I first saw the
After several visits to Phoenix and feeling a deeper connection to AZ, I told Daughter #1 “I’d like to find a storyteller that I can take home. It may take a while to find the right one.”
“I know where we can go,” she offered. So she took me to a group of charming shops and galleries. We walked in and out of several. We returned to a few. We got in the car and went a few more streets over. We walked into more shops, made conversation with the shopkeepers and owners, viewed other treasures and searched. We saw many and marveled at them all. I slept on it and made my decision.
“I think we should go to where we first parked,” I said. “Let’s go back to the shop on the corner.”
She knew and she drove me back. “She’s a singing mother” the shopkeeper explained. “The women are ‘singing mothers’ and the men are ‘storytellers’.” I made my purchase and was very satisfied with our choice.
For several years our singing mother has occupied a spot in the bookshelves by the fireplace. I can eye her while I enjoy the fire in winter, watch TV, work on the laptop or read. Sometimes I get up close and study each and every figure from the front, the back and the sides. Sometimes I lift her up to see the artist’s name painted on the bottom and smile at the thought of her inspiration. I like her Spanish name.
Later after our grandson was born, Daughter #1 took a trip out west. She brought back not one but three more singing mothers for me.
How I loved that my daughter thought of me in such a meaningful way. I’m so glad she was part of our search and remembered it. Our singing mother sits among more company now.
Here are the singingmothers in their new home by the fireplace in the country.
The original artist of these sought after pieces is Helen Cordero who created her first piece in 1964. She was a member of Cochiti Pueblo and made them in tribute to her grandfather, a “storyteller” at her Cochiti Pueblo.
“Unable to fashion pottery vessels in a manner with which she could be satisfied, she changed her course to figurative pottery, rather than give up altogether. Little did she know that she was starting a new tradition and changed the course in Pueblo pottery production. Now, all the Pueblos make storyteller figurines—not just Cochiti Pueblo. A storyteller made by her is to be a treasured item in any collection.” Adobe Gallery
I treasure my Mary Ellen Toya Jemez Pueblo piece. She has taught her daughter Judy her craft. Her daughter Judy favors creating storytellers and she is also, known for her Nativities and Christmas ornaments. I like the generational aspect of this art form, mother teaching daughter. I love the generational figures on all the varied pieces you can find in New Mexico and Arizona: mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, couples and of course, children, sometimes animals.
Looking at these mothers almost daily, is a reminder to practice bringing song and storytelling into our home. It helps us, prepare for the challenges of life: disappointment, fear, anger, embarrassment, temptation, impatience, pain, sickness, grief and death. I want to delight and find peace in the songs and stories that strengthen my faith to face life’s problems, in joy, celebration, gifts, happiness, good times, friendship, patience, good health, healing, birth and growing in maturity with humility. The singing mothers and the artists who have created them are so humble and constant.
When the routine of a household becomes stale or stagnant, I want my family to know that songs and stories are welcome in our home. Sometimes our spirit needs to be renewed, not just once a year at Christmastime, Easter or family birthdays, but often at the dinner table, reunions or any gathering. I want to encourage renewal and growing in faith at every opportunity. They are permissible. It is a wonderful license to feel joyful, to feel the confidence of not allowing others to steal our joy. Songs and stories open up refreshing ways to talk with each other inside and outside our family circle.
What songs do these mothers sing? The songs they sing is not the point. That they sing is important. During this season of Christmas, we are familiar with the Christmas music that surrounds us. Why play it? Why sing it? We have heard some songs hundreds of times. But being familiar with the various arrangements, knowing how it begins, plays out and ends is not the point either. The point is to experience it, each individual rendition, generations of adaptations.
The singing mother registers no complaint of not being able to sing, of an aching back, of shooing away annoying children or having other things to do. Similarly, the child figures are not bored. I hear the children ask “Sing the song about…” And while she sings, I don’t think they are asking her to sing a different song. They are content to play, cling to their mother, be together and listen. In repeating this ritual, they feel the constancy of being secure in her lap. They learn her words, the words of her parents before her. They experience love and being loved. They experience all this while the singing mother sits content and calm as generations of mothers before her singing over her children.