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    

Dragonfly~insanely Rare Orig '68 Psych Lp~private Pressing On Megaphone Label~nmRare Vtg? Designer "b&w" Butler Wilson Multi Crystal Dragonfly Brooch Pin SilverAuthentic Miu Miu Prada Dragonfly Lace Up Sandals Heels Shoes Size 39 Us 918k Gold .48ctw Diamond/emerald Dragonfly Pin/broochOrient & Flume Sillars Dragonfly Lotus Studio Art Glass PaperweightQuirky Silver Plated Enamel & Marcasite Stone Dragonfly Insect Brooch - V18 B56Fenton Art Glass Ooak Rosalene Melon Vase - Dragonflies & Floral DesignHuge Fossils Dragonfly With Scorpion And Fish.Vintage Schiaparelli Purple Glass Cabochons & Rhinestones Dragonfly BroochArt Nouveau Silver Plique A Jour Dragonfly Brooch...tlc...signedRaymarine Dragonfly Sonar Gps W/ Clear Pulse Down Vision #e70085-slv. FishfinderCarolyn Pollack Southwest Sterling Amethyst Turquoise & Pearl Dragonfly NecklaceHobo Nickel " On The Fly" Frog Dragonfly Bicycle By Howard Thomas CoinRaymarine Dragonfly E70085-slv Us Coastal & Lakes Demo UnitKirks Folly Dawns Early Light Fairy Pin Goldtone Butterfly DragonflyDragonfly Fibers Djinni Fingering Sock Yarn Mcn 420 Yds In Admiral BenbowRare Japanese Edo 18-19th C Samurai Antique Fuchi Kashira "dragonfly & Snails" Gorgeous Vintage Large Wings Up Dragonfly Sterling Silver Brooch Amazing DetailAudioquest Dragonfly V1.2 Usb Digital-to-analog Converter/headphone AmplifierModern Art Nouveau Style 14k Yellow Gold Green Enamel Dragonfly Pin Brooch!Huge Vintage Natural Amber Sterling Silver Moving Dragonfly Insect Pin PendantBovano Of Cheshire Glass And Metal Sculpture - Dragonfly Genuine Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Openwork Charm S925 AleAnuschka Zebra Garden Tangerine / Orange Dragonfly Shoulder Bag ToteAuthentic Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Clear Cz Bead 791733czKirks Folly Angel Riding Dragonfly Large Pin Brooch PendantStunning John Atkins & Son Silver & Enamel Art Nouveau Dragonfly NecklaceReal 22x17 Mm. Sunstone, Pearl & Cz Sterling925silver Dragonfly Yellow EarringOnly 1 Stunning 20's Dragonflies Ikat Japanese Vintage Kimono Sha Silk FabricAwesome Dragonfly Green On Black Custom Lifted Gem Car 72v Nev Golf Cart, 40mphKirks Folley Enamel Crystal Necklace Locket Forget Me Knot DragonflyJumbo! Natural Amethyst,garnet,peridot,topaz,ruby,cz 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochVintage Taxco Mexico Sterling Silver Dragonfly Pin BroochNeo Art Glass Golden Trailed Pebble Paperweight Silver Dragonfly K.heatonStampin Up Wonderful Wings-dragonfly-butterflies-lot + CardAnuschka "lata" Dragonflies Leather Satchel Nwt (357-pfs)Sterling Silver And Titanium Norman Grant Dragonfly Pendant On 16 Inch ChainDragonfly 7" Wide Screen - Sonar - Gps - Chartplotter - DownvisionAmy Kahn Russell Pin Pendant Ruby Garnet Vermeil Dragonfly Gold Drusy Sterling 7Lot Of Sterling Silver Jewelry Yellow Orange Stone Amber Color DragonflyVintage Solid Silver Butterfly Dragonfly Fly Deco Looking Ladies Ring Size P Art Deco Style Dragonfly Aquamarine Vintage Rhinestone Crystal EarringsVintage Cynthia Chuang "jewelry 10" Dragonfly Porcelain Pin BroochTiffany & Co Rare 18k White Gold Diamond Dragonfly Necklace!Raymarine Dragonfly-7 Gold Bundle Gps With DownvisionJopanda Lampwork Glass Beads Handmade Sra - Potpourri Of DragonfliesAntique Victorian Yard Long Oil Painting Birds Goldenrod Dragonfly Gesso FrameNeo Art Glass Handmade Royal Blue Ivy Pebble Silver Dragonfly Signed K.heatonMoonstone, Honey Citrine & 925 Silver Dragonfly Earrings 55mm Gemstone JewelryPro Hart - 'orange Dragonfly ' - Original Oil On Board - 6 X 9 Cm - SignedEpoch Dragonfly Gen. 5 E30 Iq9Rare Sterling Deco 1920s Butterfly Wing Dragonfly Brooch- Signed W. D. & Co3 Baron Leather Tools- 356 Grasshopper, 357 Dragonfly, 362 Frog StampsMajolica Blue Pitcher Dragonfly And Fan Plus Shells 5 1/2 InchVintage Old Carnival Glass Hat Pin Hatpin Butterfly Dragonfly IridescentVintage Antique Silver Rhinestone Crystal Dragonfly Pendant Brooch2" Inch Stamped Brass Antique Vintage Style "dragonfly" Picture ButtonVintage Blue & Green Enamel Rhinestone Dragonfly Brooch Pin Silver Tone JewelryNatural Sapphire & Pearl 925 Solid Sterling Silver Filigree Dragonfly Ring Sz 7Vintage Pin Brooch Dragonfly Signed Bsk Rhinestones Gold Toned