Sunflowers for Solidarity

By Louise Irvine

Sunflowers have a poignant significance right now as they are the national flower of Ukraine. Awareness of the association between sunflowers and Ukraine has grown since the invasion on February 24 and the seeds are being planted around the world as symbols of solidarity. Glass artist Anne Orvieto is creating fused glass panels of sunflowers to raise funds for the United Nation’s World Food Program to help Ukraine.

Symbolic Sunflowers

Images of a Ukrainian grandmother berating a Russian soldier went viral on Twitter when she handed him some sunflower seeds and told him to put them in his pocket so that the flowers would grow where he falls on Ukrainian soil. The United States First Lady, Jill Biden, expressed support for Ukraine at President Biden’s first State of the Union address when she wore a blue dress with a sunflower motif embroidered on her sleeve.

Sunflowers became a symbol of peace and a world free of nuclear weapons when US, Russian and Ukrainian defense ministers planted sunflower seeds to mark the 1996 ceremony when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. The Sunflower of Peace Foundation in Boston has started a new fundraiser to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine affected by the Russian military invasion.

Sunflowers for Health

Sunflowers are ubiquitous in the Ukrainian countryside and the cultivation of the seeds has had important economic value for the country since the 1700s. The nutritious seeds are eaten as a snack and pressed for the healthy oil. Sunflowers became a significant agricultural crop when traditional sources of fats and oils were prohibited during Lent. Ukraine has become a global leader in the export of sunflower oil.

Sunflowers have been cultivated in the Americas since 3000 BC. The Inca Indians worshipped the sunflower as a symbol of the sun and their priestesses wore golden sunflower necklaces. Spanish explorers took sunflowers back to Europe in the 1500s and hybrids were cultivated initially for ornamental and medicinal uses. Sunflowers are the state flower of Kansas which is known as the Sunflower State.

In Native American cultures like the Hopi nation, sunflowers symbolized bounty in their harvest festivities. They roasted the seeds of sunflowers for snacks, ground them into flour for baking, and extracted oil for cooking. They used the petals for yellow dye and the seeds for blue and black pigments.

Wild sunflowers have multiple stems and more than one head but Native Americans domesticated the single-flowered sunflower with which we are most familiar. Today there are hundreds of varieties of sunflowers, some mammoth varieties growing up to 14 feet tall. The head of the sunflower consists of 1,000-2,000 individual flowers and the largest recorded in the 1983 Guinness Book of World Records was 34.5 inches across and grown in Canada.

Arts & Crafts Sunflowers

Sunflowers are the most vibrant of flowers, turning their heads to mirror the light and energy of the sun. Sunflowers belong to the genus helianthus, a reference to Helios the Greek sun god. In the language of flowers their meanings include adoration, loyalty, and longevity.

Sunflowers in art are mainly associated with Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic Impressionist paintings and yellow was the color he favored when he was depressed. One of the most popular tote bags in the WMODA shop features Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and this summer we will be donating the profits from their sale to the Ukrainian cause.

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers inspired Dale Chihuly’s first art history paper in college and later influenced his Ikebana series in 1989. The fantastic flower heads and twisting stems in monumental vases sometimes reach over six feet tall as can be seen in the Hot Glass gallery at WMODA.

When Oscar Wilde, the effete poet, visited America on a lecture tour in 1882, he became notorious in cartoons as the “Sunflower Apostle”. He was satirized as a monkey contemplating a sunflower on the cover of Harper’s Weekly and was lampooned with a flower in his lapel in an absurd teapot by Royal Worcester. The Victorian artist potter, Sir Edmund Elton, opened the Sunflower Pottery at his stately home, Clevedon Court, and decorated his vases with golden crackle glazes.

Sunflowers became very fashionable in domestic interiors during the Arts and Crafts era along with lilies and peacock feathers. William Morris designed wallpaper and curtain fabric while William de Morgan produced tiles for fireplace surrounds. Brass andirons in the shape of sunflowers were popular for storing firewood in the hearths of Aesthetic Movement homes.

Sally Tuffin, the founder of the Dennis Chinaworks, was greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and made the sunflower the logo for her pottery in Somerset. Many of her stunning vases and tile designs feature their radiant beauty. Her portraits of the Art Deco dancer, Josephine Baker, were framed with sunflower petals. Sally also designed a range of vases with sunflower motifs for the Moorcroft Pottery when she was their Art Director in 1988. In March, the Dennis Chinaworks auctioned a charger by Sally which raised 750 GBP for the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis appeal.

Sunflowers are a popular gift for third wedding anniversaries and Anne Orvieto’s glass varieties will never wilt or fade. Today there is an even more pressing reason for giving sunflower glass art as they show solidarity with Ukraine and symbolize hope for a peaceful world.

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Anne Orvieto’s glass art.

Who’s Who – Anne Orvieto

The Rainbow Connection

Chihuly’s Ikebana series
Chihuly’s Ikebana

Sally Tuffin

Through a Window · Sally Tuffin and the Dennis Chinaworks