They’re very beautiful aren’t they? Their humanoid big-eyed wide faces have a direct appeal to us. We see ourselves in them and throughout history have given them human characteristics that reflect our changing vision and understanding of them: wise, wicked, ignorant, powerful, protective… the list goes on. Desmond Morris says: The owl is a contradiction. It is the best known of birds and least known of birds: Although rarely seen, it’s human headed form is easily drawn by the smallest child. Our fascination is innate, age-old … the owl is there with the pre-historic animals in cave paintings from over 30,000 years ago. .
Fastforward to Pinterest 2015…
Where has the owl flown in between? It’s journey started off well, in Babylon over 4,000 years ago, the Queen of the Night was a Goddess whose mighty ‘owl’ talons and powerful wings could subdue all.
By Ancient Greece the Goddess Athene who looked after Athens was accompanied by a now wise and powerful owl, here ancient coinage known colloquially as ‘owls’ was flipped for ‘heads and tails’? sounds familiar? well we’re still saying this. Tails… you lose.
One of my favourite ‘ancient’ owls is a Corinthian perfume bottle, 7th C BC…
hanging out at the Louvre Paris currently but really quite ready for Anthropologie homewares in London and NYC, don’t you think?
It’s Ancient Rome where it all goes wrong for the owl, here superstition turns the owl into the witches’ winged creature: blood sucking babies, hooting ‘death’ calls, grave dancing … you know.. general harbinger of woe.
Christianity runs with this Roman theme and it isn’t until the 17th century that the owl’s gradual rehabilitation begins as attempts to accurately understand the world around us get going in the Renaissance, Curio cabinet anyone? This continues through the ‘enlightenment’ and by the Victorian era we are even feeling protective and the owl (in Britain anyway) becomes seen as a treasured part of our native wildlife, symbolic even. Then Edward Lear and AA Milne shrine ‘owl’ into our collective British childhood memory:
Milne’s wise owl with perfect tree house
I grew up with these images and like many people despite never having seen an owl in its natural habitat am strangely drawn to them. When my children were little I called them the owl and the pussycat and the ‘owls’ starting rolling in, at this stage I have quite a parliament of them at home (parliament is the collective noun for owls … I tease you not).
Turns out I am not alone in my owl fantasy, in fact possibly small scale…
Fancy a bit of owl? oh? not taxidermy, well take your pick:
High St to High End has the owl obsession covered. Seriously-owlish? well 1st Dibs is the place for you, from Picasso ceramics to Cartier jewels the owl is visually arresting and highly covetable:
As an adult the mid-19th century English candelabras could fly home anytime and the arresting visuals below call out to me:
Recently constructed in France or the owl door which has also become a visual landmark in Denmark:Isn’t he wonderful? I could definitely arrive home to an owl knocker, in fact I have ordered him. Keep you posted…
The owl’s tale is enchanted: a journey from darkness and folklore to protected status and decorative charm, their place in our hearts assured from childhood. Celebrate the owl’s fairy tale:
Fashion does, the owl’s distinctive appearance and woodland charm have granted it iconic status given only to the fabled few: Fox, Owl and man’s best friend Dog. Dolce et Gabbana, Burberry, Mcqueen, Isabel Marant, Valentino, Mulberry have all owled up: brands that understand heritage values and tongue in check charm.
Quite frankly it gets me all a flutter, despite the beckoning Spring Summer season, the owl’s place in my heart, home and possibly even wardrobe is assured.
All images have reference or origin attached when you click in, any omissions please contact me.