Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Greek Key & Chinoiserie

Santorini, Greece

You might have read my post a while back about how I discovered quite recently that my late dad had hidden his Greek heritage his entire adult life and had created an entire "wasp European nobility" background. In the early 1900's when he was born, there was widespread discrimination against immigrants, so he created a last name (Allen), education (St. Andrews in Scotland), wardrobe (all Brooks Brothers), and home (tony and very waspy Lake Forest, Illinois) insulated from this. I learned through my reading that Greek immigrants during this period were even targeted by the Klu Klux Klan.

You can read the post here.

I discovered this using a free trial subscription to Ancestry. I have decided it's about time I do an Ancestry DNA test and see what else I can discover. They are having a great Labor Day Sale right now - the best deal is the DNA test at 40% off with a 3 month World Explorer Membership for a $1 more. Click here.

There is actually a strong connection between Greek key and chinoiserie. Greek key, also called a meander, is a favorite design in chinoiserie. The term Greek key is a modern designation. Indeed, it likely dates back to ancient China.

The meander is a fundamental design motif in regions far from a Hellenic orbit: labyrinthine meanders appear in bands and as infill on Shang bronzes (c. 1600 BC - c. 1045 BC) , and many traditional buildings in and around China still bear geometric designs almost identical to meanders. Although space-filling curves have a long history in China in motifs more than 2,000 years earlier, extending back to Zhukaigou Culture (c. 2000 BC – c. 1400 BC) and Xiajiadian Culture (c. 2200 BC – 1600 BC and c. c. 1000 BC - 600 BC), frequently there is speculation that meanders of Greek origin may have come to China during the time of the Han Dynasty (c. 202 BC) by way of trade with the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. A meander motif also appears in prehistoric Mayan design motifs in the western hemisphere, centuries before any European contacts.


Here are some blue and white Greek key things I am loving right now.

I bought this Greek cookbook and love it. One of my favorite restaurants in Old Town Alexandria was Taverna Cretakou. I really miss it, and decided to try my hand with some Greek recipes. This book is considered to be the best cookbook on Greek cuisine (a very healthy cuisine as well).

Greece: The Cookbook by Vefa Alexladou

(My daughter's middle name is Alexandra which is Greek and I of course had no idea of our Greek ancestry when she was born).

Greek Key Kaftan

Greek Key Bedding

Italian Greek Key Throw Blanket

Greek Key Ceramic Vase

Greek Key Ceramic Catchall

Greek Key Garden Stool


  1. Dear Beth, My 1st LOVE is the GREEK KEY it's all my Homes in so many things! You have some Great items I need to check out! Thanks, Al Spok

  2. I should really find out what my ancestry is. Decades ago, long before the internet existed, a late aunt did a lot of research on our family tree. (I still have her paperwork stored in my basement!) My cousin did it through 23 and me. How did you happen to choose

    1. My mother's side goes back to the 1700s and I have a book on her side. Ancestry is the world's largest site for genealogical research.

  3. We forget that our parents had lifetimes and experiences, often rich ones, before we came along. You mention in the earlier post that your late mother didn't know about your father's background. Do you think there's a possibility he may have shared some of that info with her, but they made a joint decision to not share his origins with their children?

    Some parents do keep some secrets that the kids are surprised to learn about, if they ever do, after the parents are gone. I've experienced that sort of thing in my own family. Heritage histories that folks might have wished to keep private no longer are so easily hidden away, what with the online resources we have access to, if we choose to search a bit.

    1. I am 100% positive that my mother never knew. With the Internet, there are few secrets anymore.

  4. How exciting to find out that you have Greek blood! You should be so proud, the people are the finest...embrace it! Beth, I think it's very sad that your father had to hide the fact. I'm sure it bothered him...

    1. It's an interesting story and now all the puzzle pieces fit.