The Storytellers

The Storytellers by Miss Birdsong
The Storytellers, a photo by Miss Birdsong on Flickr.

“The Storytellers” is my print for the 2012 PNCA Printmaking Portfolio Exchange. This is the fourth PNCA exchange in which I’ve had the pleasure to participate. It might be my last, and represents a milestone for the printmaking department: this is also the last year of teaching for Christy Wyckoff and Tom Prochaska, two teachers who have been with the department for many years. Change is inevitable, and not necessarily bad, but there is a little part of me that is sad about their retirement. The printmaking department has been like a second home to me for the last few years, and it’s hard to know that it will change. I’ve been very lucky to be Tom’s teaching assistant this academic year; I will be there for the last class he will teach.

Perhaps this kind of melancholy is partially responsible for the mood of my print, though the direct influence is the collection of Slavic folktales that caught my eye some months ago. Each of the three women has a distinct personality, as if each woman is reacting to the same stimulus in her own way. I imagine that they are the storytellers who shared those dark, funny, and cynical folk tales with a curious Englishman. The translation isn’t very good, but it gives the text the feeling of having been told in another language. Traditionally, folk tales are handed down orally from one generation to the next, picking up the lint of changing times and the personality of the teller. Some parts are emphasized, others left out, embellishments are thrown in on a whim. These women represent the link between one generation and the next through oral storytelling.

The theme for the exchange is “fact or fiction” (paper size is 9″ x 12″). Oral traditions occupy a nebulous space that is not fact or entirely fiction. They are by their very nature subjective; the stories express some kind of truth (the character and concerns of a given culture), but certainly do not relate historical facts. As a story changes from one teller to the next, does it lose integrity?  I believe that in our world of empirical knowledge, we often lose sight of the value inherent in the non-factual realm of story.

This is why we have people insisting, against all evidence and common-sense, that the Bible hasn’t changed since it was first penned (despite multiple translations, typos, and varying editions). People fear that if it is not factual that is has no meaning or value. This leads people to insist, very irrationally, that the Bible is a history book full of facts. The Bible really is a collection of stories, told orally for generations, that were eventually written down for sharing and preservation.

These women in my print certainly didn’t tell the stories in the Bible, but I imagine them telling me folk tales, many of which revolve around characters from the Bible and other important mythologies. I wouldn’t mind sitting in a room with them as they share and spin their tales. I’m also looking forward to the exchange, when I will get to see everyone else’s prints, and hear them tell the stories of how those prints came to be.

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