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 Zuni Attrib. Leo Poblano Mosaic Inlay Dragonfly PinFancy 14.01ct Diamond Tsavorite Ruby 18k Gold Large Dragonfly Pin 38.6 Grams NrAlexander Mcqueen Mcq Aw13 Must Have Dragonfly Printed Leggings S £165Devilbiss Art Deco Pink Glass W Dragonfly Perfume Bottle Atomizer Music Box RdrEberlestock J107 DragonflyCostume Jewellery Dragonfly Silver 925 Pendant Neckalce & Moth Butterfly BroochFine Victorian Blue Topaz And Ruby Gold Dragonfly BroochVintage Navajo Silver Dragonfly NecklaceVintage Caithness Studio Art Glass Paperweight - Dragonfly - Ltd Edition!Authentic Pandora Sterling Silver Dragonfly Meadow Clear Cz Bead 791733czVintage Jewellery Delightful Bright Enamel & Rhinestone Dragonfly Brooch / PinNeo Art Glass Iridescent Aquamarine Blue Heart & Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonUno De 50 Silver & Leather Dragonfly Necklace "bailando Hasta El Amanacer"Fenton Vase Lily Trail Vase 1648 Tk Dragonfly Topaz Hex 9" Yellow FlowersF974: Japanese Hanging Scroll Dragonfly And Morning Glory.Franz Dragonfly Fine Porcelain China Bell - 6 Inches TallLittlest Pet Shop Lot Of 37 Pets Bunny, Dachshund, Monkey, Dragonfly, Cat, Etc. Carolyn Pollack Sterling Silver Dragonfly EnhancerPandora Dragonfly Meadow Charm, Sterling Silver, Cz Nora Corbett Emerald DragonflyVintage Navajo Silver And Turquoise Dragonfly PinTrumpeter Lot Of 3, 1/48, A-37a Dragonfly. F9f-2 Panther And F-100f SabreVintage Sterling Silver & Enamel Dragonfly BroochFine Large Art Nouveau Design Enamelled Plique A Jour Dragonfly Brooch / PendantAntique Art Nouveau Co-operative Crumpsall 'dragonfly' Biscuits Tin - C 1911Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 Asynchronous Usb DacDragonfly In Amber First Edition First Printing 1st Diana Gabaldon Outlander HbVintage Art Nouveau Gold Filled Ornate Dragonfly Filigree Cut Sapphire PendantCostume Jewellery Brooches Pair Sparkly Animal Rat Mouse Dragonfly DiamonteAntique Vintage Art Deco Rare Silver Tone Amberglass Dragonfly Celluloid WingsVtg Lot Of 2 Anthropomorphic Children Dragonfly & Beetle Christmas Tree OrnamentCheyenne Indian 19th Century Dragonfly Rosary Wood RosaryD&e Juliana Pastel Fruit Salad Glass Rhinestone 3 3/8" Dragonfly Figural BroochSterling Silver - Taxco Mexico Dragonfly 11.9g - Brooch Hg7402Navajo Purple Dancer Dragonfly Necklace Pendant Sterling SilverNeo Art Glass Handmade Spider Disk Paperweight Silver Dragonfly By K.heaton71g 3-1/8" Navajo Sterling Natural Royston Turquoise Dragonfly Ring AdjustableEphraim Faience Pottery Dragonfly Vase 2006 Century Studios Ken Nekola 27/40Collectible Decorated Old Copper Dragonfly Ladybird Mechanical Table ClockNeo Art Glass Golden Red Speckled Pebble Papereight Silver Dragonfly K.heatonKilling Joke - Wardance - The Remixes Extremely Rare - Bflcd 32-1998 DragonflyHeidi Daus "dancing Dragonfly" Crystal Bangle Bracelet Watch *swarovski Crystal*Lot Of Sterling Silver Jewelry Butterfly Birds Frog Dragonfly Yin Yang Unicorn64x48mm Awesome Design Marcasite Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly Brooch No ReserveGorgeous Natural Top Fancy Colors Sapphire-ruby-w Cz 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochAntique Unique Micro Mosaic Floral Brooch Pin Dragonflies & Flowers Audioquest Dragonfly Usb Dac Digial Audio Converter Dragontail FiioFenton Vase Lily Trail 1648 Dragonfly Dragon Fly Yellow 9 1/4" Inches Hand PaintVintage Sterling Silver Dragonfly Link Charm Toggle Bracelet 8 1/2" LongNeo Art Glass Handmadeaquamarine Blue Dragonfly Disk Paperweight Signed K.heatonAudioquest Dragonfly 1.2 Usb Dac Digial Audio Converter Dragontail FiioVtg Signed Artisan Sterling Enamel Dragonfly Statement Necklace Giannini InsectTiffany Style Stained Handcrafted Glass Dragonfly Table Lamp Kirks Folly Seaview Moon Micro Pave Ruby Slipper Dragonfly Set 3 Add A Charm Lot Of Costume Jewelry Pins Brooches Enamel Leaf Dragonfly Cross FlowerNeo Art Glass Golden Red Trailed Pebble Papereight Silver Dragonfly K.heatonTory Burch Double Sided Reversible Dragonfly & Logo Reversible EarringsAntique Arts And Crafts Silver Plated Dragonfly Motif Ink Blotter Pretty Silver Dragonfly Brooch With Marcasite & Mother Of PearlLicense Plate, Kentucky, Nature's Finest, Dragonflies, Racing Horse, 0472 Bn