Antique and Vintage Dragonflies

The dragonfly’s ability to move in all six directions during flight, as well as its sparkling, bejeweled tones, have inspired magical associations on all continents. Lakota mythology includes a “Whirlwind” god in the form of a dragonfly, who was worshipped for assisting the tribe in deceiving enemies. Other Native American cultures thought of the dragonfly as an omen of good health; for the Zuni people, killing a dragonfly was actually punishable. The insects were also painted onto Native American pottery or sewn into beadwork on ritual objects.

In Medieval Europe, the dragonfly was referred to as the “devil’s darning needle,” “water witch,” or “snake killer,” nicknames expressing fears of the insect's alleged connection to the supernatural world. The "devil’s needle" moniker migrated to the United States with early European settlers, and has imbued regional folklore with colorful images of the creatures sewing up profane mouths or idle fingers.

The insect became linked with triumph and courage in Japan, where one of the words for dragonfly, “shoryo,” closely resembles the word for victory, “shouri.” The animal’s shape was used in designs for samurai accessories and weaponry, and legend says that one Japanese emperor even temporarily changed the country’s name to Akitsushima, translating to “Isle of the Dragonfly.”

In the 1850s, Japan finally ended centuries of isolationism and opened its borders to trade, sparking an exciting exchange of products and ideas. The International Expositions in Paris during 1867 and 1878 further highlighted the Western world’s newfound fascination with Asian-inspired imagery. The exhibitions showcased artwork like Emile Gallé’s delicate glass vase depicting a dragonfly passing over the folds of a paper fan.

The dragonfly’s complex wing pattern lent itself perfectly to the developing Art Nouveau movement, which emphasized intricate craft design and natural motifs. As the style enveloped the applied arts, dragonflies appeared everywhere—floating in paperweights and amid porcelain patterns, dangling from earrings and pendants, and decorating vases and lamp shades.

By the turn of the century, well-established glass and jewelry designers had incorporated dragonflies into their pieces, as with Baccarat’s dragonfly-shaped cut-glass dish from 1904. The same year, French magazine “Art et Décoration” held a competition for handmade product designs featuring the dragonfly, with entries ranging from an enameled metal belt buckle to ornamental lacework.

French glass and jewelry maker René Lalique often infused his work with repeating images of dragonflies, creating an elegant natural geometry, as seen on his enameled damselfly necklace from 1905. The pendant is made from four crisscrossed dragonflies clustering around a central cabochon, with a single teardrop hanging from their tails. One of Lalique’s most incredible pieces of wearable art is a dragonfly corsage ornament from 1897, with enameled and diamond-set wings, oversized dragon claws, and a head formed from the bust of a woman...

Possibly the most famous dragonfly motif was created by artist Clara Driscoll who worked in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Driscoll’s dragonfly lamp features a repeating pattern of dragonflies placed wingtip to wingtip on its stained glass shade, and was mounted on a variety of stamped bronze or mosaic bases. Color schemes varied according to the craftsperson assembling the piece, with minute glass pieces making up every detail in the dragonfly’s wings. The Tiffany dragonfly lamp received top recognition at its debut in the Paris International Exposition of 1900, just as the Art Nouveau style was reaching its peak.

Dragonfly imagery continued to be widely used in the decorative arts throughout the 1920s, when the transition to abstracted, sleek modernist forms of Art Deco began. However, the mysterious insects are still popular today, especially for subjects on costume jewelry, decorative art glass, and Asian-influenced pottery.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Early 1900s Pueblo Dragonfly CrossStunning Silver And Enamel Dragonfly Brooch Ja&s John Atkins And SonAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver & 14k Golden Dragonflies BeadWonderful Vintage 800 Silver Art Nouveau Style Enamelled Fly/dragonfly PendantAuthentic Tiffany Sterling Silver Dragonfly Charm Necklace 925Eileen Fisher- Dragonfly Scarf - Wool , Nylon, Cashmere - Nwt $98.00Jumbo Natural Red Mozambique Garnet-marcasite 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly BroochOld Sleepy Eye Indian Cattails Dragonfly Cylinder Blue Stoneware Pottery VaseEstate Swarovski Swan Signed Aurora Borealis Crystal Dragonfly Brooch Pin W/boxNeo Art Glass Handmade Emerald Green Mushroom Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonVtg Packard's Of Santa Fe Sterling Silver Dragonfly Squash Blossom Necklace | J Anuschka Hand Painted Leather Purse - Stained Glass Dragonfly DesignAnuschka Hand Painted Dragonfly Speedy Doctors Bag Purse Satchel Handbag Euc NrUno De 50 Dragonfly NecklaceOberon Design Large Leather Journal Cover--dragonfly Pond In Dark FernLt 49 Littlest Pet Shop Animals Squirrel Dragonfly Pig Owl Hamster Turtle BlytheHeidi Daus Swarovski Trembling Dragonfly Pin,brooch, Pendant Qvc Hsn Limited EdTopping Models Cessna A-37 Dragonfly Desk Display Model9ct Gold 10mm Stem Stunning Dragonfly Sapphire Blue & Clear Crystal Belly BarJbk Jacqueline Kennedy Dragonfly Scarecrow Flower Rhinestone Pins & Necklace | JKirks Folly Multi Colored Dragonfly Fantasy Crystal Gold Tone Tree PinAntique Carved Hardwood Netsuke, Dragonfly Eating Gourd, Inlaid Eyes, SignedExquisite Antique Chinese Silver & Enamel Dragonfly Bracelet*Natural Rutilated Quartz Pearl Cz & Dragonfly Sterling 925 Silver Black EarringLudwig Hartmann & Eidam Wien Pipe - Lady And Dragonfly With CaseNeo Art Glass Handmade Mushroom Paperweight Silver Dragonfly Signed By K.heatonNeo Art Glass Iridescent Pink & Blue Heart & Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonUnusual Antique Vintage Pocket Watch Chain & Clip Fob Hummingbird & Dragonfly Very Cool Swenarton Dragonfly~folk Art Fish Spearing Decoy~ice Fishing LureOld Pawn Navajo Turquoise Dragonfly Sterling Silver Pin -3.1g No ReserveNatural Rutilated Quartz Pearl Cz & Dragonfly Sterling 925 Silver Black Ring 7Retired Brighton Jewelry Silver Dragonfly/butterfly Jewelry Tree Rack HolderBob Mackie Silk Kimono & Sleeveless Top W/dragonflies Set 1x/2xDragonfly Scentsy Warmer - DiscontinuedShining Golden 4.3" Dragonfly Insect Flower Pin Brooch Austrian Crystal GreenNeo Art Glass Iridescent Purple Spiral Heart & Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonFashion Dragonfly Print Viscose Infinity Loop Cowl Eternity Casual Voile ScarfRare Tiemco Trick Trout Tombo Tonbo Dragonfly 6cm 4g Clear Color UsedAuthentic Alex And Ani Dragonfly Russian Silver Charm BangleLilly Pulitzer Pink Blue Dragonflies Reversible Twin Comforter Duvet Cover 14 Vintage Butterfly Dragonfly Bird Bug Pin Lot Sign Lc Trifari Gerrys FiguralFinest Mauser Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Candy Nut Bowl Dish Flower Dragonfly Stained Glass Tiffany Style Dragonfly Lamp, Small 11" Tall,8" Round Shade Authentic Coach Gold Dragonfly Earrings (nwt)Brass Picture Button ~ Cherub Pulled By Dragonfly Paris French Tight MetalPerfum Bottles Very Ornate Butterfly Flower Dragonfly Frosted Dressing TableRare Art Deco French Cristal Nancy Dragonfly Crystal Champagne Coupe Saucer GlasBing & Grondahl Dragonfly Pin Tray/dish #1037 Porcelain Hand-painted Denmark Vtg~dragonfly In Amber By Diana Gabaldon~unabridged Cd AudiobookVintage Czech Dangle Earrings Lady With Dragonflies & Cobalt Blue Glass Drops Huge Lot Of African Turquoise Round Beads 4mm, 7mm +czech +dragonflyD. Porthault Paris Pure Linen Made In France King Flat Sheet Dragonflies PinkSterling Silver Pendants 4-pc Lot Horse Bear Dragonfly Turquoise Jewelry A1066Egyptian Dragonfly Geocoin! Trackable & Icon!Vintage Dragonfly Clip On Earrings Multi Color Enamel Wing Ag Eye Pink Cabochon Kirks Folly Fairy Riding Dragonfly Pin Brooch Tiffany Style Dragonfly LampBeautiful! Bold Sterling Ring With All Dragonflies- Size 7 3/4- Sgnd Bc!Sterling Silver - Abalone & Mop Dragonfly 10.2g - Brooch Le2561Lia Sophia Take Flight Dragonfly Necklace