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Lesson Plans

Re: Children's Books BY Women Artists

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Christine Merriam (
Fri, 18 Sep 1998 23:24:33 -0600

I really like this book:
Old Father Story Teller
by Pablita Velarde

Christine Merriam
Kayenta Intermediate Art
Here are Customer Comments from
Average Customer Review:
Number of Reviews: 1

A reader , June 8, 1997
Wonderful paintings,
great, authentic Tewa stories

"The magic of Pablita
Velarde is all here in this book." --R.C. Gorman (acclaimed Navajo artist)

"Pablita Velarde has
told the story of her Santa Clara people throughout her career and has become
a legend
in her own time."
--United Features Syndicate

The cover and title page
painting -- titled Old Father Storyteller -- may be Pablita Velarde's best
known work.
The elder is shown
telling people of the pueblo stories about the stars and constellations, which
march in an
arc across the sky. This
painting, which Velarde was inspired to by her father's stories, won the Grand
Prize at
the 1955 Gallup
Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial.

It is also recognized by
archaeoastronomers (scholars studying pre-contact native star lore) as one of
the few
records in which pueblo
constallations can be identified, and star lore is told. (Long Sash is
basically the
familiar Orion, for
example.) So that story has uses in Native-centered science. Beautiful uses.

There are 6 stories in
the book, each with several of Pablita's fabulous paintings. "Turkey Girl" is
the Tewa
version of a Zuni
storyteller's remake of Cinderella. Turkey Girl -- clad in finery by her flock
of turkeys, instead of
a fairy godmother --
goes to a dance, and is not recognized as the ragged orphan, courted by many
men. But
when she is found out by
her mean stepmother, there's quite a different ending from Perrault's (and

She doesn't wind up with
any of those Indian men, indeed, those Prince Uncharmings are all chasing her
to kill
her for a witch! Some
kind of big turkey spirit hides her; she disappears into a canyon with her
flock. Turkeys
are found no more by
people hunting them for food. The moral and ethical meanings in this Indian
transfiguration are very
different from Cinderella. The only moral of that one is that nice clothes get
you in
anywhere. The Indian
storytellers disagree.

Velarde says in her
preface: "I was one of the fortunate children of my generation [she was born
in 1918] who
were probably the last
to hear stories firsthand from Great-grandfather or Grandfather. I treasure
that memory,
and I have tried to
preserve it in this book so that my children as well as other people may have
a glimpse of
what used to be."

Velarde's father was a
respected Tewa storyteller in the Santa Clara Pueblo. She and her sisters as children
had heard these stories
during summer nights when they returned from Indian boarding school (where Native
children were forced to
go in US government attempts to destroy Indian culture by separating children from
their families,
language, and homes) to help their father farm his fields. In the late 1950's,
when her marriage to
Herbert Hardin, a
non-Indian policeman, was breaking up, she returned to the Pueblo, recorded
her father's
stories and translated 6
of the most memorable into English for this book, which her paintings
illustrate. The
stories are told simply
and clearly, as Pablita told them to her own children, and had been told them,
as a child,
by her father.

At that point in her
life she was already an acclaimed artist, with the Bandolier National Monument murals,
many prizes, and
paintings in museums to her credit. In 1954, the French government had awarded
her the
Palmes Academiques for
her outstanding contributions to art, the first time a European government had
recognized Indian art as
fine art, rather than primitive craft.

Dale Stuart King, who
had hired her as to paint the accurate -- and artistic -- murals of
traditional Pueblo life at
Bandelier National
Monument, liked the stories and published them in 1960. The book was chosen as
one of
the best Western books
of 1960. This handsome reprint, 35 years later, uses improved color printing
techniques to make
Velarde's art available to children and others in highest quality. It's one of
Clear Light
Publishers' best-selling
books, and they have (not on a special slipcased, signed gift
edition for
$200, for rich folks
with art-loving friends.

You can see some of
Velarde's murals. at These
murals in the
Indian Pueblo Cultural
Center are explained and shown, large and in details. In addition, see a
painting by
Pablita's daughter,
artist Helen Hardin, who died untimely young, in 1984 at

Content and art
reproductions and quality are identical in the paperback and hardcover
versions of this book.
Schools may need to get
the paperback for cost reasons; parents and art-loving adults interested in Indian
culture should get the
hardcover, for permanence.

Reviewed by Paula Giese,
editor, Native American Books website,