Motifs of the Revival: The Thistle

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Thistle-themed work.

Stylized thistle tile from Motawi in a clock by Schlabaugh & Sons.

Stylized thistle tile from Motawi in a clock by Schlabaugh & Sons.

Better known as a Celtic symbol, the thistle was rediscovered by British Arts & Crafts designer William Morris and those who followed. Only tartan evokes Scotland more than the humble weed, which was adopted by the Royal Stewart dynasty along with the Order of the Thistle motto Nemo me impune lacessit (“No one cuts/provokes me with impunity”).

Thistle tile by Earth Song.

Thistle tile by Earth Song.

The tenacious plant with long taproots and nasty barbs is hard to uproot, inflicting pain on those who would try, and it comes back all the stronger if any of the plant remains…an image the Scots have held dear for more than 500 years.

Thistle’ wallpaper  from Bradbury & Bradbury fills wainscot panels.

Thistle’ wallpaper from Bradbury & Bradbury fills wainscot panels.

Symbolic also of nobility, hard work and suffering, and Christ’s deliverance, thistles are said to dispel melancholy. During the Middle Ages, white blotches on the Holy Thistle were said be the milk of the Virgin Mary. On the other hand, Abe Lincoln’s worst insult was to call someone a thistle.

Rug featuring thistles, by Tiger Rug.

Rug featuring thistles, by Tiger Rug.

Clearly drawn or stylized, the thistle is a common motif in the naturalistic and botanical designs of the Arts & Crafts movement and its revival. It continues to represent persistence and wild beauty.