With spring beginning to show it’s signs all around us, anticipation of the soon to be blooming flowers are certainly present in many of our thoughts. Tulips, a spring bloom, will be flourishing before we know it. The tulips name originated from the Turkish pronunciation of a Persian word meaning “turban.” This is because of the flowers resemblance to the garment, and likely in relation to the tradition of wearing the flower on a turban, which you can often find people continuing to do today.
The flower itself was introduced into Europe in 1554 and grew to be prominently used in art all over the world. The Dutch, primarily, were at the forefront of growing and exporting tulips. They even exhibited a dedication to representing the flower in art. Through the influence of European Decorative Arts the tulip appeared in Pennsylvania being depicted in great frequency by Folk Artists, most notably by the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, who were German immigrants having settled there.
Tulips were used as a motif in many Folk Art objects, such as dower chests. Many chests of the time, made between 1740 and 1860, were made out of a wood named “tulip poplar,” which was actually a species of magnolia. This wood became a favorite among PA Dutch makers. The chest pictured above is in the Everhart’s collection and depicts a tulip pattern very prominently. This design was later adapted into one of many logos for the Museum that spanned several decades. Tulip patterns not only appeared on chests of this type but on a variety of Folk Art creations including butter molds, paintings, quilts, and embroideries.
The tulip’s design proved to be a very versatile and popular choice among makers because the flower lent itself to be as realistic or exotic as desired. The ability to adapt the flower to different stitch patterns, colors, and designs insured its continued popularity among artists. However, the visual appeal of the flower was not it’s only desirable quality, so was the symbolic value of the bloom. Tulips are a solitary flower with several meanings depending on their color. A red tulip represents a declaration of love, while a yellow represents declared hopeless love. A white bloom is representative of a person’s worthiness or sometimes, to express forgiveness. Variegated, or striped, tulips are consistently popular and express the sentiment that someone has beautiful eyes. Overall, the flower is often described as expressing a perfect love.
Bishop, Robert Charles., and Jacqueline Marx. Atkins. Folk Art in American Life. Viking Studio Books in Association with Museum of American Folk Art, 1995.
Davis, Mildred J. The Art of Crewel Embroidery. Vista Books, 1972.
Oak, Jacquelyn. Sotheby’s Guide to American Folk Art. Fireside Books, 1994.
Ward, Bobby J. A Contemplation upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature. Timber, 2005.
Written by Melanie Rosato, Curatorial Assistant.