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Friday Feature: Telling the Stories of the Summer Skies

Mid-July, and weather and climate have finally conceded to the calendar, getting down to the business of summer at Red Willow.

The clouds come daily, the rains almost as often now, if not in the volume and duration of years past. The elders tell stories of rainy seasons that included near-apocalyptic floods, just as they tell stories of a drought to rival this one, occurrences from long past living memory. Mostly, though, they tell stories of a time not so long past, indeed, within painfully recent memory, when the summer rains were regular and plentiful, sufficient to support the land and the people and ensure abundance year-round.

They tell stories, too, of the spirits who aid in the rains arrival and the land’s survival, and with them the existence not merely of the people but of a future.

None of those may be treated cavalierly any longer. An Earth in travail, rains that come but refuse to fall . . . these are signs, and not welcome ones. At such junctures, the old ways, the old stories that show us how to live, become more important than ever.

In our cultures, storytelling is itself a way of life. Stories may be told for humor and amusement and entertainment, to educate and inform, to train and instill discipline, to ensure that ancient ways are not lost. Not every story needs a greater purpose, although our ways are such that virtually any story can impart a lesson, if only one knows how to listen and is willing to hear it. But the stories also show us what was, and what could be, and ensure that each generation is given the gift of such knowledge.

It’s part of what makes the traditional Pueblo storyteller so popular as an art form. It’s the very embodiment of culture, of its living, breathing, animating spirit, of its ability to carry existence through the invisible bonds and bounds of space and time. It permits us to connect with ancestors from the time before before time, and carries that connection forward to the countless generations of children who will remain unconceived and unborn for millennia yet to come. At this season, elders will be telling the stories of summer food and feasting, of dancing on the powwow trail; telling the stories of the summer spirits, those who bless the crops and bring the rains and ensure an abundant harvest in the fall; telling the stories of the summer sky, of the sun and the clouds, of the Thunder Beings and the spirits of the lightning.

Today, we offer four such storytellers, elders in miniature, each feeding the spirits of small grandchildren with tales old and new. These are sculptures, but they transcend, even defy, genre lines. They are summoned not out of stone, although the come from the earth: the same micaceous clay the Pueblo’s potters use to make vessels for water, for cooking, for drinking, for bathing, for ceremony, for art. The one shown above is my favorite, its colors deep and intense and vibrant, the blues and purples and blacks of the stormy summer sky. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

This little storyteller is fashioned from the local micaceous clay by Wings’s cousin, Aaron Mirabal (Taos Pueblo). Here, it’s a grandmother with three grandchildren on her lap, all dressed traditionally and colorfully. Grandmother’s hair is coiled into two Hopi-style butterfly rolls, in Aaron’s trademark style. She stands 3.5″ high (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay; paint
$155 + shipping, handling, and insurance

She is not the only one of her size, however. Aaron has created one in similar style in very different colors: Grandmother and all three children wear traditional dress in white and turquoise, the latter the color of a very different sort of summer sky. From its description in the same gallery:

Aaron Mirabal (Taos Pueblo) has formed this traditional storyteller out of the Pueblo’s micaceous clay. Grandmother holds two children on her lap while one peers over her left shoulder. All are shown in traditional dress, while Grandmother herself wears her hair in Aaron’s trademark Hopi-style butterfly rolls. Height is 3.5″ (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay; paint
$155 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Aaron creates tinier versions, too: storytellers to hold in your hand. One is a near match for the somewhat larger one shown immediately above, with grandmother and two children dressed in the same shades of white and turquoise. From its description:

It’s a storyteller figure sized to fit in the palm of your hand (or take her place on a shelf or mantel), coaxed from local micaceous clay by Aaron Mirabal (Taos Pueblo). Grandmother holds two children on her lap as she passes down the old stories and lessons to them. All “wear” matching traditional dress; Grandmother’s hair is coiled into two butterfly rolls, Hopi-fashion, in what has become Aaron’s trademark style. Figure stands 2-3/8″ high (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay
$75 + shipping, handling, and insurance

The last of this collection is of similar size as the last, truly miniature. It combines the colors of all the others: the black and violet of the storm with the turquoise and white of the clear desert sky. The children’s dress seems to embody the story of the sky itself on these midsummer days, clear bright blues with white clouds in the morning giving way to the deeper, more intense shades that herald the rain. From its description:

This tiny storyteller figure fits in the palm of your hand. Created by Aaron Mirabal (Taos Pueblo), it consists of Grandmother with two children in her arms. All “wear” traditional dress, but grandmother herself also wears her hair in Hopi fashion, in two large butterfly rolls, a feature that is one of Aaron’s trademarks. Figure stands 2-3/8″ high (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay; paint
$75 + shipping, handling, and insurance

At this season, there are so very many stories to tell: tales to impart the gravest of life lessons; tales to evoke the silliest of laughter. Right now, the world outside the window tells a tale of another sort: one that holds out the hope, and perhaps the promise, of the rain we so desperately need. Mother Earth herself is telling the stories of the summer skies.

If we are fortunate, they will not be mere metaphor. If we are blessed, they are stories that will come true very soon.

~ Aji










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