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    

Lululemon Festival Crossbody Bag Pigment Wind DragonflyArt Deco Sterling Silver Guilloche Enamel Dragonfly Insect Brooch Pin JewelleryVintage Jewellery Gorgeous Rhinestone Flying Dragonfly Insect Brooch Shawl PinAudioquest Dragonfly Usb Digital To Analog Converter (black) Version 1.0 Antique 19th C Stoneware Dragonfly Decorated 1 1/2 Gallon Crock 10 5/8"Audioquest Dragonfly V1.2 Usb Dac - Headphone/laptopVintage 1960's Crown Trifari Alfred Philippe Blue Enamel Dragonfly Brooch PinTrifari Dragonfly Brooch Pin Jewelry Vintage Sterling Glass Insect (id573)Navajo~eva & Linberg Billah~sterling~"navajo Pearl" Bead~dragonfly~necklaceNwt Lularoe Os Leggings Htf Black Paisley Lace Dragonflies Major Unicorn AmazingThomas Mann Techno Romantic Design Dragonfly Pin Insect Brooch With BrochureArt Deco Style Vintage Dragonfly Scatter Brooch In Suffragette ColoursMsr Dragonfly Fuel PumpVintage Carnelian Set Signed Miracle Scottish Celtic Dragonfly BroochSuperb Bronze Art Nouveau Photo Frame With Dragonfly: L C Busch, BerlinAudioquest Dragonfly V1.2 Usb Dac - Headphone/laptopVintage Gijoe Cobra 100% Complete 1983 Dragonfly [xh-1] Vehicle #g465Kirks Folly Midsummer Night's Dream Dragonfly Angel Pearls Bib Necklace SetVtg Art Nouveau Style Chinese Plique Jour Enamel Silver Lapis Dragonfly EarringsLularoe Dragonfly Os Leggings �� And A Free Gift!!!Ladies Sterling Art Nouveau Dragonfly Mates Brooch Pin Jewelry Antique CostumeCold Steel Dragonfly Wakizashi Chinese Hand-carved Exquisite Dragonfly And Lotus Carving Dushan Jade StatueNeo Art Glass Handmade Multi Colour Mushroom Sterling Silver Dragonfly, K.heatonMartha Stewart Vintage Dragonfly Retired Punch RareUno De 50 Silver Tone Dragonfly Pendant Long Necklace $185 Read Ad!Vintage Emilia Castillo Silver On Copper Hand Hammered Dragonfly Water PitcherSwenarton Carved Wood Dragonfly~folk Art Fish Spearing Decoy~ice Fishing LureCounted Cross Stitch Chart By Nora Corbett-mirabilia Dragonfly Lot#24 Vintage Sterling Silver Jelly Belly Dragonfly Ladies Brooch Pin With Jade Stone10k Yg Multi Color Gemstone Dragonfly Pin Brooch Wear For Scrap Price Nr AuctionDragonfly Cox 049 Model Airplane Engine, Rubber Spinner Muffler Spring StartVintage 2mod Gold Glass Crystal Citrine Topaz Flower Dragonfly Pin Brooch LotEberlestock J107 Dragonfly Pack7" Jensen Fancy Folk Art Carved Yellow Dragonfly Ice Fishing Spearing Decoy LureLuxury Real Purple Uruguay Amethyst,ruby,cz Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochPrimula Green Dragonfly Cast Iron Tea Pot With Strainer And LidCounted Cross Stitch Chart By Nora Corbett-mirabilia Dragonfly Lot#25Beautiful Amber Dragonfly Fossil Insects135gAntique Sterling Silver Sewing Thimble--925--with Dragonfly MotifKate Spade Earrings Dragonfly1/48 Monogram A-37 Dragonfly # 85-5486Beauteous Natural Sapphire,ruby & Marcasite 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly Brooch1930s Art Deco Dragonfly Streamline Deskfan Germany Raymond Loewy Machine Age Indigo Dragonfly Ober Mergoat Sport Yarn Lot 1 Hk My Lewd Hen Free GiftHappy Dragonfly By Alessandra Adelaide Needleworks135g Beautiful Amber Dragonfly Fossil Insects Manual PolishingCitron Santa Monica 2x Plus Size Tunic Top Jacket Nwt Silk Dragonfly! DusterAudioquest Dragonfly V1.2 Usb Dac - Headphone/laptopCamrose & Kross Jackie Kennedy Articulated Pink/silvertone Dragonfly Brooch PinNeo Art Glass Handmade Iridescent Ivy Pebble Sterling Silver Dragonfly, K.heatonVintage To Mod Gold Crystal Dragonfly Flower Leaf Jade Stone Brooch Pin Lot Of 5Navajo Handmade Solid 925 Sterling Silver Twisted Wire Dragonfly Pendant J IAaa White Cz Powder Rose Handmade Sterling 925 Silver Enamel Dragonfly EarringGrandmas Gem Stone Dragonfly Western Sterling Silver Chunky NecklaceCute Crystal Dragonfly Rainbow Maker Suncatcher Fengshui Mobile Pendant GiftVtg Sterling Silver & Enamel Dragonfly Insect Brooch Pin Deco Egyptian RevivalExclusive! ** Sacred Dragonfly Lake ** Czech Beads, Ceramic Dragonfly PendantLot Of Vintage Kjl Kenneth Jay Lane Costume Jewelry Earrings & Brooch DragonflyLenox Butterfly Meadow Medium Canister With Butterfly, Dragonfly And Flowers