What's the story behind this once-ubiquitous gold elephant figurine?
November 14, 2017 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Growing up in the early 80s, my hippie parents and all their hippie friends had this gold-plated elephant with red rhinestone eyes on their mantels next to the incense burners (not always literally, just setting the scene). They were small and slightly heavy for the size. Is there a story behind them? Were they supposed to be good luck or have some other symbolism? Do we know why or how the hippie home decor market got flooded with them? I have weirdly fond memories of them and I'm curious.
posted by rhiannonstone to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It references Ganesha
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:15 PM on November 14, 2017

Sorry, I should have clarified: I get that an elephant figurine might directly reference Ganesha.

But what's up with that exact figurine, and why was it everywhere during my early childhood? Were they sold in a catalog or head shop or something as Ganesha figurines or good luck figurines or just as knicknacks? And did people who bought them have any reason to think "I am purchasing a Ganesha symbol" instead of "This thing looks like mystical and exotic and cool I should get it" or something else?
posted by rhiannonstone at 11:30 PM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don’t know where it came from, and I had completely forgotten about it until just now, but my parents had one of those, too! I also grew up in the 80s (in Wisconsin, if that helps).
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:02 AM on November 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s, my hippie parents shopped at a place called "Import Bazaar" a lot. It was a big store with a lot of exposed wood, reeked of incense, and was stuffed with hippie accessories -- beaded curtains, Guatemalan hammocks, black canvas mary janes from China, "Jesus sandals," incense and holders a-go-go...

Up until searching just now I thought -- and apparently a lot of other people did too -- that it was the precursor to Pier 1 Imports. The old Import Bazaar stores here changed over to Pier 1s, but that seems to have been just convenience and the two chains aren't related. But the initial Pier 1 stock was same-y enough to confuse people like me, apparently.

Here is Alannis Morrissette's old Ottawa apartment, which is decorated in very...Western faux-Eastern style; I don't know how to describe it. In one pic you can see a statue of the Buddha next to what I'm pretty sure is an elephant. It makes me think of...that. Western uses of Eastern spiritual iconography (and other collected whatnot from/looking to be from "the East") as décor.

Even though Pier 1 now sells junk like "charger plates" instead of chair hammocks you'd spend the rest of the day longing for, a search there still fetches up a LOT of elephants. They are "Indian-inspired" or on shower curtains, pretty well appropriated and mainstreamed, rather than being from India as they were in the Import Bazaar era.

I keep drivelling on about Import Bazaar because it did very well, and was exactly the sort of place growing hippies with kids in tow shopped to decorate, and exactly the sort of place that would have sold crates and crates of imported Indian elephant what-not. The symbolism to me, a Western white person with no religion, seems uncomplicated: it is either "I like elephants and thought this guy was funky," or, if accompanied by a lot of other Indian statuary whatnot, "I have a half-read book on Eastern religions next to the toilet as I am going through a phase," with an element in both of "hippie lives here" signalling.
posted by kmennie at 12:10 AM on November 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

Why not ask your hippie parents and/or all their hippie friends?

For the record, I'm of your parents' generation, but neither I nor my hippie friends had those.
posted by caryatid at 9:44 PM on November 24, 2017

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