Fan-tastic 3 Friends Fans Prologue

Spanish Fan (Mellin)
(Since the next set of blogs focuses on fans : 3 Fans Friends,  I thought I'd get you into the spirit by posting an article  I wrote some time ago in my syndicated column, ArtSmart Travels. 
It is about my visit to the Fan Museum in Greenwich, England.  No,  I didn't know about it  beforehand either.  It was an accidental find, and it was  actually I the reasoning I started the column in the first place.  
I thought others should know about it also. I wrote the column for years after, and it was published around the world. 

I fell in love with fans after that visit and started collecting fans as I traveled.  I have a  lace  fan from Venice, a handmade paper fan from Florence, and an elephant dung fan from Laos, and many more. They have managed to find their way into some  of my artwork  also.   I've posted a few samples. 
Hope you enjoy this extra blog and it inspires you to find something you love that  reminds you of the people you've  met and the places you've been. )

A "Fan-tastic" Museum in Greenwich, England

  Did you know fans have been part of civilization for at least 3000 years? One of the discoveries in Tutankhamun's tomb was a fan with an L-shaped ivory handle complete with ostrich feathers.  Ancient Greeks and Etruscans make references to fans in life and myth, while painted silk fans date back to fifth-century China.  Until I discovered The Fan Museum, while visiting Greenwich, England, I hadn’t realized that fans were this interesting. 

I didn’t know, for example, that the earliest fans were flat ceremonial devices, often covered with gold leaf.  By 1500, folding fans were evident, first in Italy and then throughout Europe. By the 17th century, France had become the leading source of fashionable fans, and by the 18th century, Queen Elizabeth I helped established their popularity in England. And fans as still a fashion accessory in Spain.

This unique Museum—the only one in the world dedicated exclusively to the history of fans and the art and craft of fan-making—is located at 12 Crooms Hill, within two, beautifully restored 18th century townhouses conjoined by a reproduction Georgian Orangery.  In 1985, the abandoned town houses built in 1721 were purchased to contain and conserve the over 2,000 fans and fan leaves collected and donated to the nation by Hélene Alexander.  After extensive restoration, the museum opened to the public in 1991. 

Sitting in the shadow of the Greenwich Observatory, this unassuming, little gem today houses over 3000 fans from around the world dating to the 11th century,  A permanent exhibit illustrates the history of fans and the art of fan-making. However, only a portion of the collection, often combined with other loaned fans, is displayed at one time in exhibitions, which change about every three months. Spokeswoman for the museum Alexandra Moskalenko explained to me that many of the fans are delicate and should not be open and exposed to light for longer periods of time. Neither should the fans be stored in a closed position for extended periods.

If you walk through the exhibitions, you may be surprised to discovered the variety of styles, materials and construction of fans. One mid-18th century fan, for example, contains a stylized visage with cut-out eye holes; when held before the face, it provided a no-strings-attached mask, ready for costume-parties or coy flirtations. In some cases, fans are printed on both sides; one side might present a respectable image from an opera or play, while the other side reveals a more erotic scene.

I learned that not all folding fans consisted of single folded leaves; some, like the style made popular by Jenny Lind, had individual petals. There are several "Jenny Lind" fans in the collection, including one of Alexander's originals that alternates blue and white embossed petals tipped with feathers and decorated with curvilinear rococo scrolls swirling around silvered birds, lover's knots and roses. The monture. or rib portion, is bone with pierced sticks and guards gathered together by a mother of pearl rivet and a thin gilt metal loop. 

In addition to collecting and displaying fans, the museum provides research and conservation services, conducts workshops on crafting fans, and creates custom-designed fans for businesses and special events such as the limited edition fan, with moveable clock hands, created to commemorate the millennium in 2000.  

  An excellent example of form meeting function, fans purposefully blend decoration and utility to create a unique work of art, both practical and pretty.  The Fan Museum reminds us that people throughout history have valued this combination that brings beauty, meaning and art into our everyday lives. It also reminds us that sometimes the most interesting travel experiences are found off the well-traveled path. 
In additional to the "3 Friends Fans" images I'll be posting soon that showcase traditional dances from Bali, Fiji and northern Norway, with fans, check out these upcoming blogs that also show or discuss fans in a folk heritage:
Jingle Dress Dance of the Ojibwe (5 Olden Rings),
Singkill Dance of the Philippines (5 Olden Rings) 
Flamenco Dancer/Spain (9 Ladies Dancing) 
Sesath Shade Fan  Border/Sri Lanka (12 Drummers Drumming.) 

I've also posted here three artworks of my own that focus on fans:
1. A large 3-D Chinese fan with brush painted flowers on rice paper over an actual  fan I purchased in China. I  like the way a few of the Chinese letter characters are slightly visible through the rice paper. 

2. Next is collage from my Pandemic Interior series, showing a hand colored dry point etching of my fan collection.

3. I bought the fan in the opening oil painting (Spanish Fan with Cranberry Glass) in Toledo, Spain to add to my collection. With its dark, black, color block creating stripes against the purple background, I thought it formed an excellent backdrop for my mother-in-law's collection of Cape Cod Cranberry Glass vases. 

Chinese Fan (Mellin)
Fans and Bottle collage

Be the first to post a comment.

Previously published:

The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin