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Southwest Storytellers and Pottery

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Southwest Pueblo Indian Storytellers and pottery

My fascination with storytellers began on my first visit to the American Indian Guild Show at the local fairgrounds several years ago. There were weavers, artisans, jewelry makers, and potters selling their creations everywhere. But what really caught my fancy were the seated male and female clay figurines with their mouths open. Each one had its own personality.

There were always children, sometimes lots of children, sitting on laps, perched on the shoulders, on top of heads, or clinging to the back of shawls. The different expressions on the children's faces were unique and so delightful to look at.

I asked one of the vendors what these doll sculptures were and why their mouths were all open. He asked, "Didn't your grandmother ever tell you stories when you were a child?" And so I found out that day that these delightful clay storytellers were started in 1964 by Helen Cordero, a potter from Cochiti, New Mexico, as a tribute to her grandfather, Santiago Quintana, who always told stories to his grandchildren.

And thus started my love affair with pueblo storytellers.

I am showcasing my collection of storytellers and pottery and sharing my sentiments about each one.

Where are the pueblos of New Mexico? - Map of the 19 pueblos and Indian reservations

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The Pueblo people are located primarily in New Mexico, however, at one time the Pueblo's homeland reached into the states of Colorado and Arizona. Pueblo people rooted in this region of the southwest are descendants of an indigenous Native American culture that has established itself over many centuries.

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Cochiti Pueblo

Where it all started

The original storytellers were male figures modeled after Helen Cordero's grandfather who sang and told stories of Indian heritage and traditions to his grandchildren. The females were known as "Singing Mothers", but later on, storytellers came to mean any clay sculpture that was male or female. Later, animals were incorporated into the term storytellers.

Clay was gathered from a secret sacred place, hand-coiled, handpainted and fired the traditional way in the ground. No molds or kilns were used.

See Helen Cordero's storyteller with 24 figures at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

This is a Cochiti female storyteller by DH (Dorothy Herrera). This demure mother does not have her mouth open like the typical storyteller and is holding on to three happy, well-behaved kids.

Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Kewa (formely Santo Domingo pueblo) - One cranky baby and a toy doll

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This mother storyteller by G. Tenorio appears to be appeasing her restless baby.

Note that even the baby's doll has its mouth open.

Taos Storytellers - My favorite pueblo

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This is a large storyteller by Taos potter, Margaret Quintana. I mistook this for a Japanese doll from afar because of its Asian features and hair style. Ten playful children wearing traditional colorful clothing are attentively listening to the songs or stories of this male storyteller.

Cheyenne Jim (Taos pueblo) - Lulling two babies to sleep

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This female storyteller by Cheyenne Jim (Diane Lynn) is made of mica clay. Her works are easy to single out as these have a distinctive style and are never painted over except for tiny details. Feathers and leather straps are often incorporated into Cheyenne Jim's storytellers.

Christmas ornament of storyteller with three little ones. "Hush little baby don't you cry"

Christmas ornament of storyteller with three little ones. "Hush little baby don't you cry"

Christmas ornament of storyteller with three little ones. "Hush little baby don't you cry"

Acoma Storyteller with three kids - Potter Darlene Lee Vallo

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Acoma is often called the " Sky CIty" because it is located atop a mesa in Western New Mexico. The storyteller pottery is made from local slate-like clay and designed with mineral and vegetable-base paint.

This female storyteller, by Darlene Lee Vallo,with three kids, is a caricature with exaggerated eyelashes. The four children look like they are up to no good. I often refer to this storyteller as the Tammy Faye Bakker storyteller doll.

Judy Lewis - Whimsical Acoma storyteller

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This delightful storyteller by Judy Lewis shows the gentle nature of the singing mother and her three children. Judy included small details like three gray birds, a butterfly, a crow, and a kitten. Note the tiny lizard, gecko painted on the boy's leg pants. The gecko is one of the good luck symbols of the Southwest.

Acoma Pottery

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This Acoma pot is adorned with geckos or tiny lizards, which are native to the southwest, and believed to bring good luck and fortune by many native American tribes. This is a beautiful hand-coiled clay pot signed V.(Virginia) Garcia of the Sun Clan. Virginia is known for her hand-painted lizards on pre-historic pottery.

Geometric small pot

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This small traditional Acoma seed pot was painstakingly hand-painted in a black and white geometric design. The artist is Tena Garcia of Acoma, New Mexico.

Nice cutout of the bear claw - Lots of creative details

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Good luck symbols - Gecko and bear

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This Acoma pot is made of white clay and has a spotted gecko, a bear and a bear paw cutout. This is not a hand-coiled pottery but a greenware pottery poured into a mold. I really like the symbolisms in this piece. The gecko for good luck, the bear for strength and leadership, and the bear paw for direction and power.

Isleta Pueblo Storyteller - Angelic faces

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

The storytellers from Isleta pueblo have a cherubic countenance and always have their eyes closed. This is a mother storyteller by L.Teller who has lulled her three children and a puppy to sleep with her soothing lullabies.

Isleta storyteller's backside shows her hair tied into a neat bun.

Isleta storyteller's backside shows her hair tied into a neat bun.

Isleta storyteller's backside shows her hair tied into a neat bun.

Isleta Pueblo miniature pots - Small details matter

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Barely 1 1/2 inches tall, these two miniature handcoiled Isleta pots still charm with the colorful designs.

Storyteller Bell

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

I bought this storyteller pottery bell from eBay several years ago. It almost looked like a Nativity scene, but at close inspection, this is really a singing mother with three small children and an infant.

Navajo Seed Pot - Yei figures

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This is a traditional brown-colored Navajo seed pot with etched Yei figures and cornstalks. The square-head masked figures are females who possess healing powers. The cornstalks represent the signs of life for the ancient Indians of the Southwest.

The pot is painted with melted pinon (pinyon) tree pitch to give it a waterproof glaze. The pinon pine is the New Mexico State tree.

Navajo seed pot backside - Looks like a stairway to heaven

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Jemez Pueblo Seed Pot - A master potter's masterpiece

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This beautiful seed pot was hand-coiled and handpainted by potter B.J.(Betty Jean) Fragua of the Jemez Corn Clan. The fine piece of buff vase is designed with geometric representations, and a cornstalk, which is a symbol of life. It is the mainstay for many tribes of the southwest pueblo Indians. The texture of the seed pot is extremely smooth and highly polished.

Jemez Pueblo Storyteller with two babies - Potter Lyda Toya - Two is a good number

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

The majority of my storytellers are from the Pueblo of Jemez, which is one of the 19 pueblos located in New Mexico. Jemez is known for the beautiful red clay used for pottery. The people are internationally known for their arts and crafts.

This is a singing mother storyteller by Lyda Toya with two babies. The painted circles on the cheeks are distinctive characteristics of most of the Jemez storytellers.

Jemez Storyteller with 4 kids - Potter P. Tosa - Fashionable and chic

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Photo Credit:jennysh_who

This caped or hooded storyteller is so fashionable with the painted turquoise earrings and necklace. She has her hands full with four animated boys. Handcoiled and created by potter P. Tosa of Jemez.

Jemez Storyteller with 4 happy girls - Potter L. Tsosie

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This female storyteller by L. Tsosie, has four happy girls sitting on their mother's lap; two of them seem to be singing along with mom. Again, note the circles on the cheek.

Jemez Storyteller with 4 babies - Fashionable twist

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

The braided hair of this mother storyteller gives her a fashionable twist. She has succeeded in lulling her 4 children to sleep.

This one is signed by F.L. of Jemez. Many of the artisans from Jemez bear this same initials, so it is hard to give credit to the creator.

Jemez Storyteller with 5 kids - The more the merrier

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This female storyteller, by C. Gapchupin, has kids learning their ABCs. She may be a teacher or babysitter.

This piece was purchased for me by a friend who traveled to New Mexico.

Jemez Storyteller with 6 kids - Potter L.ucero - A handful of ankle biters

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This colorful storyteller by L. Lucero has 6 children in various moods. One of them looks like she is tired and cranky and needs an afternoon nap.

Jemez Storyteller with 10 kids - Angelic faces, but not what it seems

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This storyteller by Caroline Sando, "Peacock Feathers", was made from natural clay gathered from the sacred grounds within the Jemez Pueblo. There are eight round-faced kids sitting contentedly on her lap. But wait, look around, there may be more.

Two of ten kids - Playing hide-and-seek

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Two little ones are clinging to their mother's cape at the back.

Jemez storyteller with 15 kids - Kids galore

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Photo Credit:jennysh_who

This storyteller by potter H. Sando has real turquoise nuggets for her earrings and necklace. She is shown also flanked by 13 kids in front.

Or are there more?

Don't lose count now - There are more kids hiding

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

Aha! Two mischievous kids are hiding in the back, clinging to the storyteller's sash. Fifteen rambunctious kids all in all!

Jemez Storyteller with 33 children - This one takes the cake

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Photo Credit: jennysh_who

This is my largest storyteller by Caroline Sando, and also the most prolific. With 33 kids stacked up to her neck, this storyteller seems to be making a roll call rather than singing or telling stories. Real turquoise cabochons were used for the jewelery.

History and tradition behind Pueblo storytellers

Great book for the whole family

Pueblo storytellers and pottery Links - Invaluable information

Once of the most in demand collector's book

The Great Photo Shoot

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This is collection of various Southwest Indian storytellers from the 19 pueblos and 3 reservations in New Mexico. Each artist has his or her own distinctive style. See if you can identify some of the pueblos from where these storytellers came from based on the photos from my own collection. It will be a challenge to own a storyteller or pottery from every pueblo.

Storytellers from Amazon

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What did you think of this storyteller lens? - Was it informative?

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 14, 2018:

These are beautiful potteries especially the subject of storytellers. We were in the Southwest 2 years ago and got some pottery. They are beautiful and it is good to know more about them.

NanuMarie on July 21, 2015:

i too collect southwest storytellers. I have close to 50 pottery and a few made from molds (these got me started in Cherokee, NC). I have several books. It has been a few years since I have really taken stock of my collection. Your lens was wonderful and was very informative. I may just have to spend a little time with my collection.

settlestories lm on July 17, 2013:

Very interesting lens; video was particularly informative

opatoday on February 25, 2013:

This is just Amazing Thank You

scribenet lm on December 15, 2012:

I love the images and the link to make our own storyteller dolls! Thanks!

mistaben on December 05, 2012:

Pretty nice lens, well done!

Michey LM on July 30, 2012:

Love the pottery Angel Blessings!

Canvas-Art-Shop on July 25, 2012:

So cool, i'd never seen Southwest art like this before.

darciefrench lm on June 08, 2012:

I think it's quite awesome indeed - loved it all, the pics are especially amazing

ChenB on May 28, 2012:

This lens is absolutely beautiful. It's important to bring attention to Native North American art. Well done!

samsipet on May 27, 2012:

Not enough is done to present native Indian art, and your page is a wonderful awakening.

jlshernandez (author) on May 25, 2012:

@bikerministry: Thanks bikerministry for the blessings. 7 storyteller children could mean another grandkid on the way maybe? I love these storyteller figurines because each one is unique and they all seem to speak to me.

bikerministry on May 25, 2012:

I have two Storytellers, one was a gift with 7 children hanging on the Storyteller, I got it before I had grandchildren, I now have 6 grandchildren and have always wondered if 7 was my number? I also have one that was used as a trophy for first place in a motorcycle show in Utah at the "Healing of the Nations Rally" back in 2001. This is a fine lens, very well done. Blessings.

avigarret on May 06, 2012:

I never knew pottery could be so meaningful and beautiful, a very enlightening lens.

Chazz from New York on April 13, 2012:

Wonderful stories and I love how even the colors you chose for the boxes work so beautifully with your pictures. Blessed and featured on my "Wing-ing it on Squidoo" lens.

Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on April 10, 2012:

Your telling of the story is wonderful - and I loved the storyteller with 33 children. Fantastic.

anonymous on April 02, 2012:

Beautiful pieces of art, and something I am new to. thank you for sharing them with us :)

Kathy McGraw from California on March 09, 2012:

Came back and reblessed this...just as great as I remember it :)

Katie Harp on March 08, 2012:

blessed by a squid angel :) <3

BlogsWriter on February 29, 2012:

This is an amazing storyteller lens, I loved the images.

GreenMind Guides from USA on February 23, 2012:

Beautiful lens, really well-done. I live in Chicago but this makes me want to move...

pufek77 lm on February 21, 2012:

Another interesting lens which surprise me and drop my jaw on the floor.

Thank you!

Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on February 17, 2012:

I got my first storyteller piece about 20 years ago- a grandmother with children climbing all over her- probably 30 children- it was quite an elaborate piece, and I love it. I just spoke to me. About two years after gettign that piece, I found myself getting a job as a storyteller, and i've been doing it ever since! Thanks for sharing all of these different interpretations of the storyteller dolls. Awesome lens and wonderful pictures.

sarahrk lm on February 12, 2012:

This is such a nice lens. I really love everything southwest, the culture, crafts and scenery.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on February 11, 2012:

Oh Me! I love this lens. I followed the link that Kab posted on facebook and sure am glad that I did. This is wonderful and I had never heard of the Pueblo Storyteller Dolls before.

Rose Jones on February 08, 2012:

This is a wonderful lens. I love story, and I want to revisit New Mexico - where my mother grew up as a teenager.

tangy on January 29, 2012:

a wonderful lens!

Shorebirdie from San Diego, CA on January 27, 2012:

Very neat. I've bought an Acoma ceramic hummingbird Christmas ornament once. Very nice!

nikyweber on January 27, 2012:

Thank you for posting! awesome lens!

myamya on January 27, 2012:

Nice post! thumbs up!

sheezie77 on January 27, 2012:

vegy nice lens! well done!

WhitU4ever on January 26, 2012:

Wow! I think I'm in love with these too now. I live in the Southwest, so I will have my eyes open for these from now on. I'm sure everyone will be aware of my excitement when I find my first storyteller... lol

hirephp lm on January 25, 2012:

very nice lens with huge picture collection

miaponzo on January 23, 2012:

I think those pottery story tellers are adorable!! Blessed!

Dancing Cowgirl Design from Texas on January 22, 2012:

Yes, Very informative and beautiful works of art!

kathysart on January 22, 2012:

Fantastic lens, I really enjoyed all the wonderful pics! Angel blessed.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on January 19, 2012:

The Storyteller dolls are really interesting. The mention of Santo Domingo made me recall that they had artisan dolls there which had no faces, very unusual. Congratulations on your Purple Star, blessed.

VillaDejaBlue on January 11, 2012:

Nice lens.

queenofduvetcover on January 09, 2012:

I really loved reading and looking at all the beautiful images of the storytellers. Great lens =)

hsschulte on January 08, 2012:

Congrats on making the front page of squidoo. I love the pottery and your knowledge of it. ~ Blessed

anonymous on January 07, 2012:

Nice to see this artistic lens on the front page of Squidoo.

Thought I'd stop by and bless it again. Happy New Year!

SiochainGraSonas on January 07, 2012:

I fell in love with the Storytellers about 25 years ago and started my Mom a collection of them. This is a wonderful lens. Thank you for sharing the story behind them.

bossypants on January 07, 2012:

I've Storytellers in a Native American Gallery, but didn't know the story behind them! Very informative lens. Thanks for sharing your considerable and beautiful collection!

I came upon this lens on Squidoo's front page. Congratulations on the well deserved feature!

anonymous on January 06, 2012:

Great lens! I loved scrolling through all the pictures, thanks for posting!

oceanfaerygoddess on January 05, 2012:

These are wonderful! So unique to look at, and all with a fascinating background to them as well.

GregDeTisi LM on January 05, 2012:

Very cool stuff here! I always love to learn more about other cultures! Thanks!

BuddyBink on January 04, 2012:

Beautiful pieces. Interesting history of the storyteller dolls. Thanks

SecondHandJoe LM on January 04, 2012:

What an interesting lens . I've never seen these figurines before! Thank you for sharing them!!

traveller27 on January 04, 2012:

Awesome lens on these storytellers and clay figurines - blessed by a travelling angel.

curious0927 on January 04, 2012:

Nice lens. I've not had the pleasure of seeing any of this beautiful pottery until now!

parwatisingari lm on January 03, 2012:

great, is there anyway I can subscribe to you.

lasertek lm on January 03, 2012:

This is wonderful!

kdhannan on January 03, 2012:

Interesting lens. Any pottery closer to Yuma, Arizona?

anonymous on January 03, 2012:

Great lens - very interesting.

Africanos on January 03, 2012:

Nicely done.Thumbs up.

cleanyoucar on January 02, 2012:

Congrats on winning the purple star, well deserved.

Gayle Dowell from Kansas on January 02, 2012:

Beautiful lens. I feel we have a lot in common. I'm also a watercolorist, art collector, and nature lover. I'm just now getting interested in the fiber arts. I also collect native american pottery and have one of the Isleta miniature pots that I adore. Blessed.

jimmyworldstar on January 02, 2012:

It's good that some of the culture has survived in the legacy of oral history and figurines. A lot of the figurines look simplistic but have their own unique charm to the bodies.

anonymous on January 01, 2012:

very informative

SteveKaye on January 01, 2012:

You have shown a fortune in Storyteller art. It's amazing to see all of these styles in one place. Thank you for this beautiful lens.

Edutopia on January 01, 2012:

Great lens. Native Americans need far more exposure in the world.

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on January 01, 2012:

This is beautiful and very interesting. I never heard of these before.

howtocurecancer on December 19, 2011:

Blessed by a SquidAngel.

ladykida on December 10, 2011:

I love the creativity, great job!

waldenthreenet on December 02, 2011:

Interesting topic, valuable presentation. Working on Cherokee and few other traditions both pottery and story telling in Virginia region. This discussion most helpful. Thanks.

pawpaw911 on November 22, 2011:

Very interesting lens. Loved all the great photos.

fugeecat lm on November 15, 2011:

I've seen these before, but I didn't realize they were called storytellers.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 05, 2011:

Will have to know more about Helen Cordero. Blessed!

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 10, 2011:

What beautiful mexican art work. The storytellers are wonderful.

Close2Art LM on October 04, 2011:

Fantastic page, loved it all...blessed..:)

anonymous on September 15, 2011:

This is awesome pottery work and the images are great.

anonymous on September 13, 2011:

These are strikingly beautiful. :)

bikerministry on August 31, 2011:

I have a few "storytellers." They are one of my favorite decorative items. Reminds me of my important role as grandma!

Kathy McGraw from California on July 09, 2011:

Wow, I really enjoyed seeing the storytellers in your collection. I also learned a bit more about them here. I used to collect them, and my Facebook Avatar is of one of the storytellers I have from one of the mesas in Arizona. I am going to put this as a featured lens for some of my Native American ones, and giving it an Angel Blessing also :)

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on July 08, 2011:

I am also fascinated with storytelling and storytellers. Did you know there was some sort of copyright in Europe in 19th century about storytelling? Some stories were reserved just for certain storytellers, other for others. And despite the fact they were beggars they were very picky about their listeners too!

Jerrad28 on July 07, 2011:

You have a great collection, thank you for sharing!

akumar46 lm on May 24, 2011:

beautiful pottery...nice lens,thanks.

Snakesmom on May 24, 2011:

These images are TOO cute! I love the southwest pottery and you picked great ones for this lens, nice job!

CHalloran LM on May 24, 2011:

Amazing work of art. LR'd it to my southwestern polymer clay beads lens.

doubleside lm on May 18, 2011:

fun lens..I enjoyed read the lens.

chrispell017 on May 03, 2011:

yes, very informative.. nice lens!

sorana lm on April 30, 2011:

Fabulous lens. A very well deserved Purple Lens.

CruiseReady from East Central Florida on April 03, 2011:

Really fascinating. I think the storyteller bell you bought from eBay is my favorite

UKGhostwriter on April 03, 2011:

I love thise Acoma pots!

GetSillyProduct on April 01, 2011:

wow, what amazing pottery/sculpture! These have so much character :)

TheRatRaceRebel1 on April 01, 2011:

I lived in the southwest for several years and saw many of these lovely pieces of pottery but never knew what they were all about. Thank you for putting southwest storytellers and pottery together to educate us all on this fascinating topic.

Blackspaniel1 on March 26, 2011:

Nice lens. Joined fan club.

JoyfulPamela2 from Pennsylvania, USA on March 17, 2011:

Wow, these are so cool looking! Congratulations on your purple star! =D

sabinamiller on March 16, 2011:

Great lens and like your way of story telling...

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Modern Furniture

jodijoyous from New York on March 15, 2011:

Lovely lens. In my culture, the stories told by grandparents are called "bubba meinsers." Blessed.

jvsper63 on March 09, 2011:

I really love this lens..Great posters. Lovely job:)

Everyday-Miracles on March 09, 2011:

Congratulations on your purple star! What a great lens!

jlshernandez (author) on March 09, 2011:

@Mickie Gee: Mickie_G, I have been to Taos, NM but was not able to visit the Taos pueblo because of some religious holiday. So, the Taos reservations was closed to the public. I would have loved to visit with the potters and storyteller artisans and see how thhey make these clay figurines. Thanks for your cheers.

jlshernandez (author) on March 09, 2011:

@anonymous: Thank you Tipi for being a frequent visitor. I am very honored.

anonymous on March 09, 2011:

Congratulations on the Purple Star, I'm very happy that this lens got one. I love it!

bdkz on March 09, 2011:

Super lens! Congratulations on that Purple Star : )

Mickie Gee on March 09, 2011:

I love your photos!

I have visited the Taos Pueblo and found it fascinating!

Michelle Collins from Florida on March 01, 2011:

I love this lens!

dellgirl on February 28, 2011:

What a beautiful and delightful to look at lens, I love it! Thanks so much for sharing. These dolls remind me of a set of "Trouble Dolls" someone gave me.

5***** and thumbs up. Joining your fanclub.

Stephen Carr from Corona, CA on February 27, 2011:

Great lens. Enjoyed it!