Collected: Owl Souvenirs from Around the World
Thai superstition says that the owl is a cursed, evil, symbol: if one lands on your roof, horrible things will happen.
In most other countries the owl is much brighter figure, representing intelligence, perspective, wisdom, protection, mystery, power, fortune. It seems that only in Thailand does the fowl bring misfortune.
So, maybe, it’s kind of ironic that my owl collection began in Thailand.
I never meant to start a collection of owl souvenirs. I didn’t. I simply walked into a hipster art store in Chiang Mai and fell in love with an adorable painting of an owl. I simply bought something I thought a cute. But then I bought another owl. And another. And another. And now I find myself always looking for an owl to take home when I take travel somewhere new.
Owl Souvenirs from Around the World
Renegade Craft Fair, a quirky pop-up market full of modern crafts, is something I look forward to each year. They always have at least two events in Chicago (one in the summer and a holiday market in winter) and I love looking around at all the indie jewelry and home decor. I happened to be in London when an event was being held there, so I decided to check it out. Renegade London wasn’t nearly as crowded as the one in Chicago, which often gets to the point where you can barely move and have to wiggle through hoards of people to examine pairs of earrings up close. But London, England, had more of a market culture in general — I actually walked through two others on the way there — so maybe it wasn’t as much of a novelty for locals. It was nice, though, and not just because I could actually breathe while shopping around. There were so many new-to-me vendors, so many different things than I’d see back at home. One was Anna Wiscombe — a London-based artist who creates beautiful wooden creations with pastel details. While I was tempted by all of her items, who are we kidding: I bought the owl.
My hostel in Santiago was a few blocks from Patio Bellavista, a multi-level square full of upscale eateries and souvenir shops. I walked through it a few times: indulged in my sushi and gelato cravings at restaurants, booked a winery tour, perused the stores. One of those stores was a charming little front full of teapots, spoons, and dangling metal mobiles. Of course, there was an owl with little hooks dangling from it’s feet. And of course, I took it home.
Owl In Log
Bath, England, had a lot of cute store and it was fun wandering in and out of them. One of the stores I came across, Timber Treasures, was a shop full of handmade wood carvings. The litte intricate owls carved into logs had me sold. Being hand carved, each tree owl was different the next and I spent a little too much time figuring out which I liked best. But i think I picked the right one.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
This painting was my first owl souvenir, the one that sent me down the rest of this road. Quite honestly, I bought it because I liked it. It was adorable. A cute little owl. A miniature painting. Pink and blue. And it seemed like something unique, not your typical Thai souvenir. The store (I’m Fine Art in Chiang Mai, Thailand) had a whole wall full of owls and cats of varying sizes and I walked in multiple times while living in the city, contemplating buying one, but never committing. Finally, on one of my last few days, I did. And, I suppose, a collection was born.
Fortune Owl Bank
I suppose you can say that this owl bank from Guatemala was the one that cemented this as a collection. Previously, I had bought two owls in Chiang Mai simply because I thought they were cute. In Antigua, Guatemala, I bought an owl because it fit the theme.
In Guatemala owls, or tecolotes, represent luck, prosperity, abundance. So it’s no wonder that Guatemalans replace the animal we associate with banks, the piggy, with an owl. These fortune owl banks were all over the markets in Antigua. And, if I hadn’t already bought those two owls in Thailand, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of them. But I had owls on my mind, I suppose, so, the more I saw them, the more I wanted one. Most of the owl banks I saw were orange and yellow and brown, so when I happened upon some blue ones in a market off of Parque Central, my collection was cemented.
Porcelain Owl Lantern
I don’t really have a good story behind the blue porcelain owl lantern. I stopped in a cute shop in London. I saw it. I liked it. I bought it. It fits my themes in all ways, in both species and color. Sometimes that’s all you need in a souvenir.
Wooden Painted Owl
This wooden painted owl is also from a shop in Patio Bellavista in Santiago. I bought it, simply, because it was an owl, it was teal, and I liked it.
Athena Owl Figurine
In Ancient Greece the owl symbolized higher wisdom. The owl represented Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom. The owl was the guardian of the Acropolis. On our last night of TBEX Athens, after days of gaining the “wisdom” only a travel blogging conference can give, the closing party had us walking down Pandrossou Street Market. We sampled local food, local drinks, local performances, and many of the vendors were open to peddle their wares. And many souvenir stalls had owls of different shapes, sizes, and materials: a popular symbol of the city. That night I picked up a little bronze owl with little blue eyes.
I was determined to find something to take home from our day trip to Masaya. Masaya is, after all, “The Cradle of Nicaraguan Folklore,” the place to go for Nicaraguan handicrafts. Part of me wanted to buy a beautifully intricate hammock. But I already had a hammock from Thailand back home. And I probably will never live anywhere I can hang a hammock anyways. But when I discovered a shop with walls lined with colorful clay bird whistles, and one shaped like an owl, I knew what my souvenir would be.
Owl Incense Holder
Chiang Mai, Thailand
On the same day, or, at least, close to the same day, that I purchased that first owl painting, I picked up another owl. A cute little clay incense holder in the shape of the bird. I believe it was from another store, another little art store down the block, called Things Called Art. But for all I remember, it might have been from the same place. There were a lot of cute little hipster art boutiques in Old Town Chiang Mai, another reason I loved the city so much, and I frequented them all. And I may have gone a little crazy buying from them before I left.
Salt Owl Figurine
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
My biggest owl souvenir regret (what, don’t you have those too?) is not picking up an owl amulet from the Witches’ Market in La Paz, Bolivia. The Witches’ Market sells all the potions and ingredients and llama fetuses you need to cast whatever spell you want. This includes little statues and pendants of owls, thought to bring knowledge. I visited and felt too intimidated by all the witchcraft that I didn’t buy one. And I meant to go back but work and altitude sickness prevented it.
I did, however, manage to pick up an owl in Bolivia: one made of salt from the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni.
Mosaic Owl Figurine
When I think of my time in Spain, my mind often goes to Antoni Gaudì. I loved Gaudì’s architecture and the rich, beautiful mosaics that adorned his works in Barcelona. I found this owl the last time I was in Spain, in Madrid. And, while it wasn’t Barcelona, while it had nothing to do with Gaudì, while that particular trip was spent mostly getting over jet lag, while I usually don’t like picking things up in mass-marketed souvenir shops, I picked it up. It’s rubber, all one piece, and I hope maybe someday to find a real mosaic owl, for now, it still reminds me well enough of Spain.
Peruvian artists harvest gourds, dry them out, and then create designs on them with hot pieces of burnt wood. Owls are a common design and you’ll find these little bulb birds in the markets in Peru. I picked this little one up in a market in Arequipa, along with an alpaca sweater that kept me warm after trekking Colca Canyon.
Ceramic Owl Ring Dish
Chicago, Illinois, USA
OK, so this isn’t a souvenir at all. But that bookcase is right next to my door so I needed a place to keep my keys and loose change. So, when I saw this white and gold owl ring dish at West Elm (on sale, no less), I snatched it up because it fit the theme. And my keys.