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    

Marius Hammer. Extremely Pretty But Damaged Enamel Dragonfly.Ruby,sapphire Plique De Jour Art Deco Design Dragonfly Silver Brooch/pendant,925 Nwt Lularoe Unicorn Tc Tall & Curvy Leggings Drangonflies Dragonfly Chinese Fine Porcelain Vase Dragonfly Famille Rose Qianlong Mark Republic / 20thNwt Lularoe L/xl Large X-large Kids Leggings Dragonflies Unicorn!!! Dragon Fly Nwt Lularoe Tc Tall & Curvy Leggings Dragonfly Dragonflies UnicornCharles Horner. Extremely Pretty But Damaged Enamel Dragonfly.Pretty Diamante Set Dragonfly Brooch By Attwood & SawyerNwt Lularoe Tc Tall Curvy Leggings - Dragonflies Hot Unicorn!!! Dragon Fly Lularoe Tc Leggings Unicorn Dragonflies Orient & Flume Studio Art Glass Iridescent Dragonfly & Cattails Egg Paperweight Edwardian Charles Horner Sterling Silver Enamel Dragonfly BroochLularoe Os Black Dragonflies One Size Unicorn Htf Gold DragonflyPrecious! Natural Fire Opal,rhodolite,ruby,sapphire 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochLularoe Tc Dragonfly NwtAwesome Real Rhodolite Garnet,sapphire,ruby Sterling 925 Silver Dragonfly BroochLularoe Os Black Dragonflies One Size Unicorn Htf Gold HotLularoe Tc Tall & Curvy Dragonflies Print! Htf Rare Unicorn!!Vintage Jewellery Large Dragonfly Mayfly Insect Lucite Orchid Flower Brooch PinLularoe Tc Dragonflies Gold/black/gray Dragonfly UnicornJob Lot 30 Vintage Butterfly & Dragonfly Brooches, Pendants & EarringsNwt Lularoe Tc Tall Curvy Leggings - Dragonflies Hot Unicorn!!! Dragon Fly Inknburn Dragonfly Tank Top Size Large - EucLularoe Tc Tall & Curvy Leggings Dragonfly Dragonflies Unicorn Nwt **unicorn Bnwt Tween Lularoe Dragonfly Leggings **htf Unicorn**Nwt Lularoe Tc Tall & Curvy Unicorn Dragonfly LeggingsBeautiful Anna Weatherley Porcelain Cup Butterfly, Dragonfly, Leaves - MintIndigo Dragonfly Chameleon Sock Yarn Lot. 1 Hk Cranberry Free GiftArt Deco Style Tiny Vintage Dragonfly Scatter Brooch Suffragette ColoursSwarovski Swan Signed Green Enamel Crystal Rhinestone Dragonfly Brooch Pin Rare!Neo Art Glass Iridescent Gold Swirl Glass Pebble Silver Dragonfly By K.heatonAuthentic Trollbeads Ooak Green Frog & DragonflyFenton Handpainted Lotus Mist Burmese 10.5” Basket With Dragonfly NrNwt Lularoe Tween Leggings: Rare Htf: Black, Gold/orange DragonfliesBeautiful Lularoe Os Dragonfly Leggings *unicorn!!!*Nwt Lularoe Tc Tall & Curvy Leggings Dragonfly Dragonflies Unicorn Free ShipNeo Art Glass Handmade Green Iridescent Dragonfly Disk Paperweight By K.heaton14k Yellow Gold Antique Dragonfly Stickpin With Diamond & Rubies .06ct Turquoise Blue Enamel & White Diamond "dragonfly" Necklace .925 SilverVintage Dragonfly Mushrooms & Dove Pendant #35 34Majolica Planter Bowl Green / Brown Dragonfly Rim AntiquePandora Silver Dragonfly Stud Earrings 290574cz With Pandora Suede PouchSalvatore Ferragamo Tie Green With Pink Dragonflies 100% AuthenticVintage Pixie Elf Riding On A Dragonfly FigurineNavajo Opal Inlay Dragonfly Pin/pendant .925 Sterling Silver. High Handmade 597Unique 925 Sterling Indonesian Bumble Bee Jasper Dragonfly PendantVintage Brooch Pin Lot Krementz Mop Jade Butterfly Lady Bug Dragonfly FloralDragonfly - Copper Blue Turquoise 925 Silver Ring Jewelry S.7.5 Sr158397Neo Art Glass Handmade Multi Gold Iridescent Dragonfly Disk Paperweight K.heaton Aceo Sfa Original Art Painting Watercolour Dragonfly Garden By GweddusHeidi Daus Fantasy Of Flight Necklace & Earrings Topaz Lime Cz DragonflyHeidi Daus Fantasy Of Flight Necklace & Earrings Blue And Purple Cz DragonflyDragonfly Lindsay M Lularoe Htf UnicornLularoe Os Leggings Dragonflies NwtNoble Chinese Artificial Amber Genuine Dragonfly Statue Pendant NetsukeDragonfly Fibers Corgi Merino Dk Yarn Lot 1 Hk Queen Of The Night Free Gift88029# Japanese Kimono / Vintage Hanhaba Obi / Woven Ichimatsu With DragonflySterling Silver - Signed Brass Accent Dragonfly 18.8g - Brooch Cw8703Batik Dragonfly Garden Log Cabin Quilt TopBlack Hills Gold Dragonfly Pendant 12k Gold & Sterling Silver W/ Cz