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    

1955 English Dragonfly .15cc Diesel Model Airplane EngineIncredible 7" Van Briggle Dragonfly - Mint!!Castilian Poland Bronze Art Nouveau Dragonfly Etched Glass Flower Vase Urn W LidVintage Tiffany & Co Brooch/pin 14k Gold Dragonfly Opal Leather Display BoxVintage J Tostrup Norway Sterling Enamel Rare Find 3 Dragonfly PinsKirks Folly Fairy's Woodland Paradise Trinket Box Frog Snail DragonflySterling Silver - James Avery Carved Dragonfly 1.7g - Charm Pendant Zm5241Gorgeous Joan Rivers Dragonfly Design Painted Glass & Stone Brooch - V08 B12Raymarine Dragonfly 5dvs Sonar6 Piece Franz Porcelain Dragonfly Plate Spoon Set Plates Signed By Jen WooStunning 10k Yellow Gold "dragonfly" Pendant With 0.30 Sapphire And Diamond #j33Moda Quilting Fabric Fat Quarters Yards Lot Gypsy Rose Dragonfly Apple Of My EyeVintage Multi Gemstone Dragonfly Sterling 925 Pin Brooch (9.8g)Camrose & Kross Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Jbk 3" Dragonfly Brooch Mib W/ PapersAudioquest Dragonfly Usb Dac V1.0 Works Perfectly Kirks Follys Vintage Woodland Paradise Clip-on Earrings Box Frog Dragonfly BeeAceo Original*best Apple For Unicorn*peony's Boat Trip!*dragonfly*butterfly*tree2 Spectrum Stained Glass Beautiful Dragonfly Lamp Shades, Excellent ConditionDragonfly In Amber ~signed~true 1stedition~1stprinting~1992 Delacorte ~fine Neo Art Glass Navy Blue Ivy Pebble & Silver Dragonfly Signed By K.heaton Rrp £70Antique Enamel Dragonfly Pendant Necklace – Sterling Silver – Large PendantCollectible Decorated Old Copper Dragonfly Ladybird Mechanical Table ClockGorgeous! Natural Black Tahitan Pearl & Dragonfly Mop 2-tone 925 Silver PendantSterling Silver - Signed Blue Topaz Dragonfly Slider 6.5g - Pendant Yw2391*pandora* Sterling Silver/14k Yellow Gold "golden Dragonflies" Bead 790898Neo Art Glass British Handmade White Mushroom Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonTiffany Style Dragonfly Bankers Desk Lamp Metal Base Stained Glass VintageVintage 925 Sterling Silver Heavy Unique Dragonfly Pin / Brooch (17.3g) - 467599Pair Green Enameled Handblown Vases With Cut Glass Tops Dragonflies FlowersWomens Inknburn Dragonfly SingletHeidi Daus "dancing Dragonfly" Crystal Bangle Bracelet Watch *swarovski Crystal*Vintage Multi Gemstone Dragonfly Sterling Silver 925 Pin Brooch (9.0g)Estate Natural Inlaid Opal And Genuine Black Onyx Dragonfly Sterling Pendant Womens Inknburn Dragonfly SkortNeo Art Glass Iridescent Golden Heart & Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonPaul Weller Dragonfly Sealed 12" No. 1457 Ep Peter Blake Rare Vinyl Record ExWomens Inknburn Dragonfly CamiFenton Fairy Light Lamp Flowers And Dragonfly Lot Of 19 Paper Punches - Dragonfly, Maple Leaf, Bunny, Christmas Tree LightbulbLicense Plate, Kentucky, Nature's Finest, Dragonflies, Racing Horse, 0743 BnJopanda Lampwork Glass Beads Handmade Sra - Bellflowers Dragonfly White GlamourDragonfly In Amber - Diana Gabaldon 1st Ed. 3rd Printing Hc/dj 1992 Full SizeKirks Folly Spring Celebration Fairy Pin Goldtone Dragonfly Bumble Bee Brighton Jewelry Silver Dragonfly/butterfly Jewelry Tree Rack HolderVintage Marcasite Green Quartz Or Glass Dragonfly Sterling 925 Pin Brooch (9.9g)Vintage 50's Multi Color Crystal Glass Rhinestone Dragonfly Pin BroochVintage Dragonfly Pocket Watch ,steampunk Pocket Watch NecklaceVintage 14k Gold & 925 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Charm Pendant (1.9g) - 469983Diana Gabaldon Signed On Bkplate Dragonfly In Amber First/1st PrintingAntique Old Sleepy Eye Chief Vase With Cattail & Dragonfly DesignAuthentic Alex And Ani Dragonfly Russian Silver Charm BangleJames Avery Sterling Silver Dragonfly Charm; 1.8 GramsVintage Dragonfly Brooch With Turquoise StoneArt Nouveau Dragonfly Vintage Snake Hat Pin Seed Pearl Butterfly Enamel Pin Lot*nwt* Carter's 2-pack Dragonfly Set Size 24 MosEstate Natural Inlaid Opal And Genuine Black Onyx Dragonfly Sterling Pendant Memory Box Shabby Chic Winged Dragonfly Metal Die 1-pic4.33" Hot Fashion Animal Dragonfly Purple Austrian Crystal Brooch Pin EnamelNatural Black Onyx Marcasite 925 Sterling Silver Dragonfly Brooch Pendant G71648Real Diamond Dragonfly Ring