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Motifs of the Revival: The Dragonfly

The free and colorful dragonfly is popular in today's A&C revival.
Sculpted ‘Koi & Dragonfly’ tile, Medicine Bluff Studio

Sculpted ‘Koi & Dragonfly’ tile with a cuenca-style glaze, from Medicine Bluff Studio.

Every culture, and every child, has been enamored of the iridescent dragonfly. The free and colorful creature occupies water, land, and sky. As a motif, the dragonfly reappeared during the Anglo–Japanese craze of the Victorian period, along with the crane, the spider web, and the sunflower.

Copper ‘Dragonfly’ cabinet knob, Notting Hill Decorative Hardware

Copper ‘Dragonfly’ cabinet knob from Notting Hill Decorative Hardware.

Some ancient European cultures saw dragonflies as sinister—eye pokers, or followers of snakes—but most associations have been positive. The insect has symbolized light, swift agility, happiness, and the transition from late summer into autumn. The dragonfly represented victory to the samurai (and it may be the oldest design motif in Japan). The Navajo (for whom they symbolized water), the Zuni, and the Hopi stylized dragonflies in their pottery and cave paintings. Owing to its perpendicular wings, the dragonfly has sometimes been rendered as a cross.

dragonfly embroidery pillow

Abstracted embroidery on a pillow, available as a kit from Arts & Crafts Period Textiles.

With a long history in decoration, the motif, rendered in both naturalistic and stylized designs, remained popular during the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts periods. Find it in jewelry and hardware, lamps, fabrics, tiles and pottery, and in stencil patterns.

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