The oldest umbrellas, as we know them today, were used not to keep off the rain but to avoid the sun.
The basic umbrella was invented more than 4,000 years ago. There is evidence of umbrellas in the ancient art and artifacts of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China.
These ancient umbrellas or parasols were first designed to provide shade from the sun.Thought.co
Umbrellas feature heavily in East Asian art (and life), partly because of the heavy rainy season which, unlike my hometown in the South Island of New Zealand, falls hard without the accompanying wind. Umbrellas are a good choice.
Parasols feature large in 19th and 20th century art featuring white women, too, back when being ‘fair’ meant being very white. Parasols were a fashion accessory.
In the composition of an illustration, the umbrella is super useful. It provides a frame to draw ta viewer’s eye. In this way, it functions as another kind of archway, heavily utilised by artists.
A Hula-Hooping moose, a badger with a bumblebee umbrella, a rabbit in a cashmere sweater, and a very wet bear star in this unpredictable and laugh-out-loud picture book in which having fun gets the best of a grumpy bear.
It looks like a wet and dreary day for Bear and his trio of friends. How could he possibly have fun when he is soaked? But Badger, Rabbit, and Moose don’t seem to mind. In fact, Moose can still hula hoop! And it looks like so much fun. Might Bear like to try?
Here is a story that shows that fun is not dependent on sunshine and blue skies. In fact, it might be more fun to be soaked!
Mushrooms and toadstools have such a strange shape that in the golden age of fairies, they featured large in children’s illustration, used variously as houses, seats, tables, and sometimes umbrellas.
The connection between mushrooms and umbrellas is clear. Grandville’s image below goes further.
There is a strong connection between the umbrella and the circus, and the circus often indicates the carnivalesque. Umbrellas ostensibly help a tightrope walker to maintain balance. (Is that actually true?) I suspect it simply provides the tightrope walker a little false reassurance, that the umbrella would function as a mini parachute should they fall.
Umbrellas offer the possibility of magical flight, which equals freedom.
A cursed girl escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination
Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.
But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.
It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart – an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
The umbrella allows a young child freedom, to go outside and play, even in the rain. They are also associated with beach scenes, all good fun. An umbrella in the bath is comically ridiculous.
Symbolically, like the child characters using an umbrella in the bath, they can be used to visually convey the idea that small measures make no difference in a deluge of problems. In English we use ‘Band-aid’ in a similar way, as in ‘Band-aid over a gaping wound’. The umbrella is less gory.
If anyone’s ever tried jumping from a high space holding an umbrella you’ll already be aware that the umbrella won’t make you float softly onto the earth. It cowardly turns itself inside out, leaving you to crash land. Perhaps these boy had been to the circus and seen the tightrope walker use one.
When an umbrella works it’s pretty impressive. But there are few things more pathetic looking than a broken umbrella. They can look almost batlike.
Umbrellas have other practical uses, especially for the hook at the end. As storytellers, the options are endless.
UMBRELLAS WHERE YOU DON’T EXPECT THEM
Header art by Theodore Levigne (1848 – 1912).