The daughter of Rudy and Felicita Jojola, Stella Teller was born at Isleta Pueblo in 1929. It wasn't until about 1962 that she first appeared in the marketplace with her earliest pieces. Since then she has earned numerous awards at the SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market, the Eight Northern Pueblos Arts and Crafts Show and the New Mexico State Fair for her distinctive storytellers, nativities and non-traditional jars (canteens in particular).
Stella's pieces are notable for their "sleeping eyes," overall light-blue to white coloring and often have strings of heishi beads either inlaid or painted on. Some of her pieces have found their way into the collections of the Peabody Museum at Harvard College in Boston, the Folk Museum in Berlin, Germany, and into the Wright Collection, Walton-Anderson Collection and the personal collections of Frank Kinsel and Peter B. Carl.
Her favorite designs include clouds, rain, turtles, Pueblo dancers and kiva steps. Her favorite styles include storytellers, Nativities, jars, bowls, wedding vases, canteens and effigies.
Stella has passed her knowledge on to her daughters: Chris, Mona, Robin and Lynette, each of whom has gone on to become award-winning potters in their own right.
Pueblos: Cochiti, Jemez, Acoma, Isleta, Santa Clara
Historically, clay figures have been present in the Pueblo pottery tradition for most of the last thousand years. However, figures and effigies were denounced as "works of the devil" by the Spanish missionaries in New Mexico between 1540 and 1820. Before and after that time the art of making figurative sculpture flourished, especially at Cochiti Pueblo. The forms of animals, birds and caricatures of outsiders and, more recently, of images of mothers and grandfathers telling stories and singing to children have multiplied.
The "storyteller" is an important role in the tribe as parents are often too busy working and raising kids to pass on their tribal histories and the Native American people did not have a written language to record anything for posterity. The closest thing they had to a written language was pottery and the designs that decorated that pottery. So the storyteller's role was to preserve and retell and pass down the oral history of his people. In most tribes that role was fulfilled by men.
The first real storyteller figure was created in 1964 by Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero in memory of her grandfather, Santiago Quintana. She gathered her clay from a secret sacred place on the lands of her pueblo. Then she hand-coiled, hand painted and fired that first storyteller figure the traditional way: in the ground. Helen never used any molds or kilns to make her pottery.
Helen's creation struck a chord throughout all the pueblos as the storyteller is a figure central to all their societies. Most tribes also have the figure of the Singing Maiden in their pantheon and in many cases, the mix of Singing Maiden and Storyteller has blurred some lines in the pottery world. Today, as many as three hundred potters in thirteen pueblos have created storytellers, and their storytellers are not only men and women, but also Santa’s, mudheads, koshares, bears, owls and other animals, often encumbered with children numbering more than one hundred! Each potter has also customized their storyteller figures to more closely reflect the styles and dress of their own tribes, sometimes even of their own clans.