PEOPLE TELL PRUDY CORREA that they love her storyteller pottery figures because they’re so joyful, with their eyes lifted to the sky and their mouths open in song. “I’m happy when I’m working, and storytellers reflect your feelings,” she says. “Clay has a mind of its own, it really does.”
The Acoma Pueblo artist is best known for her storyteller nativities, in which Acoma figures greet the birth of the Christ child. During the four-day Christmas celebration at the pueblo, “we have deer dancers, buffalo dancers, and butterfly dancers,” she says. “I wanted to make my nativities look like you’re at Acoma.”
A third-generation potter, Correa learned to gather supplies during summers spent with her grandmother Marie Miller. “We would go hiking to gather her pigments,” she recalls. “I knew where to go to gather the clay colors.”
Although she made pottery when she was young, Correa spent many years after college helping her tribe develop business ideas to improve its economy, including the Sky City Casino Hotel. But after caring for her parents in their final days, Correa realized she was surrounded by her mother’s and grandmother’s tools. There was even a stash of clay ready and waiting for her. But she didn’t want to make pots. “I wanted to do something different,” she says.
Storyteller dancers and animals often appear in her nativities. Sometimes, French bulldogs or lop-eared rabbits stand in for the biblical figures. “My granddaughters have French bulldogs,” she says. “I wanted to put them in there because animals are part of our family.” Her Chihuahua makes an occasional appearance too. “Sometimes he’ll sit by me like he’s posing, saying, Make one of me,” Correa says.
Correa, who works out of her Los Lunas living room, sells her pieces at art shows and through her website. She enjoys passing along the clay traditions, including to her teenage granddaughters. Before Covid-19, she also taught children’s pottery classes at the Haak’u Museum, in Acomita Village. “We took them to gather clay and pigments,” she recalls. “After the children finished their classes, the adults wanted classes, too.”
ITEM WE LOVE
Santa Claus visits Jemez Pueblo to give gifts to the children, who gather round to hear stories of Christmas past. In Diane Lucero’s series of storyteller Santas, sometimes Santa holds five children in his arms, sometimes nine. “Families like to buy storytellers with the number of kids they have,” says Lucero, who has been making storytellers for more than 30 years. Part of a family of potters that includes her mother, Mary R. Lucero, and her great-grandmother Magnita Lucero, she digs her own clay and uses a mix of acrylic paints and natural pigments, which she gathers herself. Like her mother’s figures, Diane’s storytellers—especially the children—appear soft, like dolls, almost as though they are made of fabric. They grasp their new toys and smile. “I make them because I was always inspired by all the Indigenous kids getting presents,” she says.