Wise Owls 

By Karen Parr-Moody


The woodland trend has gathered full steam, and who-ooo is that swooping at the forefront? Why, that would be the wise owl leading the way of the forest motifs, which include mushrooms, deer, squirrels, foxes, and all things faux bois. 


The road to this forest was most recently paved in the 1970s, when shades of avocado greens and harvest golds were the background to mushrooms, owls, and daisies, motifs second only to the era's redundant smiley face. Those who were there will recall the abundance of owl merchandise, which included owl banks, cookie jars, flour canisters, mugs, candles, banks, and macramé wall hangings. The owl was definitely the '70s answer to the pink flamingo of the '50s. 


Today, these high-flying hooters are once again turning heads as the latest "it" birds of home décor. A quick peek at any of the on-trend stores, including Anthropologie, Z Gallerie, Uncommon Goods, and Jonathan Adler, reveals a bevy of owl-themed products. At GasLamp, one can easily reach back in time to find these mesmerizing birds of prey in vintage form. 


No matter if it is the owl's perceived wisdom, or merely pop culture's infinite randomness, owls, such as the McCoy cookie jar, right, are hot ($50; S-104). Made in the late 1970s, this cooke jar is McCoy number 204. It has a shiny brown glaze that would have blended into the woodsy avocados and greens of its original era, but would look fabulous against today's popular tones of eggshell and robin's egg blue. Its large, stylized eyes and protruding beak simply add to its charm. And it appeals to two kinds of collectors: Those who amass the ever-popular McCoy cookie jars, and those who collect owl motifs. The JW McCoy Pottery Co., established in 1899, became known for many innovative art pottery styles, among them the cookie jars that have created focal points in many a kitchen. McCoy cookie jars first went into production during the 1930s, and included the early "Mammy" jar of a black woman holding cauliflowers. The first owls appeared in 1952; that cookie jar was number 38 and was known as "Mr. and Mrs. Owl." It featured an owl couple in fancy dress (he wore a top hat), with their heads designed as the jar's lid. 




Like Mr. and Mrs. Owl, the avocado green cookie jar, left, also has a head that functions as the jar's lid ($35; Booth B-319). It is not a McCoy, however, but holds a lesser-known imprint of Holiday Classics. The tell-tale color and mid-century styling makes it likely that this charming owl made his debut in the late '60s or in the '70s. Owls are back, and so is this color (although fashionable firms now will no doubt call it by other names, such as "moss" or "eden" or "forest"). What a hoot this cookie jar would be in a bright, white kitchen. 






One facet of an owl's beauty is its mystery. Who hasn't been camping, or simply watching a scary movie, when the nocturnal cry of an owl pierces the air? Even when not seen, those glowing eyes are lighting up the dark, and that utterly silent flight is making the trees rustle. The intrigue of this bird is certain felt in this rustic painting, right ($8; Booth B-120). What a few fun ways to keep an owl around the house.














Nostalgia for the past can be keenly felt in the graphic nature of this '70s-era hooked rug covered in owls, left ($35; S-104). The first hooked rugs of the United States came from areas of New England during the 18th century. By the Victorian era, their popularity had expanded. And then again, during the '70s, hook rugs' popularity was revived again, likely due to the ease of pre-packaged craft kits. Bell-bottomed women would often join together, as with a quilting group, and hook away (likely to some Moody Blues tunes).  









The print at right is a special edition lithograph on paper, featuring a great horned owl image by recognized wildlife artist Gene Gray ($165; Booth B-342). From the Collector Series IV, it is signed as number 205 out of 1,000 prints, and it is dated 1969. Gray went to high school in Kentucky, then majored in fine arts at the University of Kentucky. He graduated from the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida and went on to live in a Florida area called Siesta Key, which is known for its colony of artists and writers. 


In mythology, the owl is a creature of wisdom. But during the ’70s, this iconography went beyond wisdom to utter cuteness (remember the owl who taught us how many licks it took to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?). Today, this nocturnal creature can be found in many guises, and is sure to fly into a home with enough charm to fill up a forest. 

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