Credit Line: Transferred from the Applied Arts Department. In the Farm House Museum Collection, Farm House Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
Whirling Log vs. “Swastika” Symbol - Interpretation and History
Innumerous cultures and groups have used the Whirling Log or what we now recognizes as the “swastika” symbol throughout history. Today, this symbol can bring up feelings of hatred and oppression. But for centuries, this symbol has represented peace, prosperity, and luck.
The symbol of the Whirling Log has been used by humans since 10,000 B.C. All over the world, different cultures have used this simple geometric symbol to represent anything from creation to luck and prosperity. As it is easy to draw and incorporate into many forms of art, the Whirling Log has been found in India, China, Egypt, England, North America, Russia, Greece, Finland, Poland, Spain, France, Ethiopia, Denmark, Korea, and many other countries. Today, religious groups such as Hindus and Buddhists revere this symbol as sacred.
In a Native American context, the Whirling Log was incorporated into almost every form of art, ranging from sand paintings by the Navajo, to basket weaving by the Tlingit and Makah in Alaska. The first recorded use of this symbol in North America dates back to the Hopewell Mound people in Ohio around 200 BCE - 500 CE.
The two baskets displayed in the Farm House Museum are believed to be of Pima origin. The Pima, or Akimel Oʼodham, are located in central and southern Arizona, USA. Renowned for their skilled basket weaving, Akimel O’odham women began selling baskets to tourists and collectors. However, for a week’s worth of weaving work, collectors would only pay $1.00-$3.00 for each basket. Akimel O’odham women found greater income in cotton picking, and by 1920, no more baskets were being sold commercially. The baskets at the Farm House Museum were collected by the Applied Arts Department at Iowa State in the 1910s and 1920s. They were used as educational tools to teach students about art styles and techniques around the world. After the Applied Arts Department was dissolved in the 1970s, the baskets, along with many other art objects, were transferred to the permanent collection of University Museums.
During the Victorian Era, collecting artifacts from cultures around the world became very popular. As travel was expensive, it was a clear way to showcase wealth and worldly knowledge. The Native American baskets and pottery on display at the Farm House Museum showcase this part of Victorian culture. Additionally, the Curtiss Library in the Farm House is the most accurate to what it would have been when it was occupied in the early 1900s as it is the only interior room with a photograph. As seen in the picture, on display in the parlor, Native American baskets were exhibited in this room by Charles Curtiss in 1907 when this photograph was taken.
Now, most people initially associate the Whirling Log symbol as the Nazi swastika. The Nazis stood for radicalized hate and systematic oppression and were a very dark time in human history. Sadly, this is exactly the opposite of what this geometric symbol meant and still means to so many around the world. At the Farm House Museum, we hope to display these artifacts to educate and inform the public, encouraging them to look deeper into the history of this symbol, and the many cultures it represents.