Storyteller is a classic Navajo jewelry design that has roots in Navajo Folk Art. The storyteller design gives homage to how the Navajos traditionally did not have a written language, so all history and traditions are passed on orally. The scenes depicted in storyteller jewelry tell the story of the traditional Navajo way of life, which may include a hogan (traditional Navajo home), weaving, drumming, chores, horses, sheep, cooking, campfire, or Southwest scenery. The details can get quite intricate and are most commonly displayed on cuff bracelets. Storyteller jewelry is typically made with the overlay technique, which involves one layer of silver with a cutout design laid on top of a solid layer of silver. Storyteller jewelry is one example of how art can serve as a beautiful medium to share aspects of cultures, beyond written text.
One of our favorite storyteller designs is by Navajo silversmith, Cody Hunter, who creates “Inner Beauty” cuffs. On the outside, these cuffs have a sandstone texture and 14k gold petroglyph symbols. On the inside, these cuffs reveal a beautiful multi-layered storyteller scene. The true beauty of this bracelet is on the inside, hence the name, "Inner Beauty.” Cody’s storyteller designs vary slightly; some showcase a grandmother telling stories to children or some have a weaver at the loom. All of his pieces bring to life the striking landscape of Canyon de Chelly, sheep herding, horses, a hogan, and a 14k gold sun.
Another one of our favorite storyteller artists is Navajo silversmith, Robert Taylor. Robert grew up in a hogan where his father was a medicine man and his mother was a weaver. Robert cherishes his traditional upbringing and continues to live in the same place where he was born. His pride in his Navajo culture is reflected in his iconic storyteller cuff bracelets that tell the story of Robert's life on the Navajo Reservation.
Although each bracelet is one-of-a-kind, they share similar symbols and the basic story often includes these elements:
- Red rock formation as seen in Monument Valley
- Two cows representing the raising of cattle
- An outhouse with someone about to enter
- A rack where butchered sheep were hung
- An outdoor bread oven
- The rug loom with Robert's mother weaving
- The traditional hogan where the family lived
- Sheep dog and horses that were used to herd the sheep
- One or two sheep
- The open sky with its big clouds and ever-present ravens
- On both sides of the cuff’s opening, Robert places an arrowhead or healing hand
Some artists, like Roland Begay, incorporate more contemporary elements within their storyteller designs, like a truck:
No matter the various ways Navajo jewelers create their version of the storyteller design, the intention remains the same: to share the story of the Navajo / Diné way of life.