Fans Around the World

Fans around the World

From the very first prehistoric moment when an individual waved a palm leaf to create a pleasant breeze, fans have existed in almost all societies. The first fans were fixed, simple flat surfaces like leaves or feathers attached to a handle of some sort. As long ago as 2000 B.C., feathers and other ornamentation were used in fan construction, and fans became a social accessory, not just a tool used to keep cool. Elaborate fans constructed of gold, precious stones, and ostrich feathers were depicted on the walls of Tutankhamen’s 3300-year-old Egyptian tomb.

During the Renaissance, fans found their place in European culture as luxury items and were typically constructed from rare metals and fine jewels. Artists during the 16th century drew Queen Elizabeth I holding a variety of luxurious diamond-encrusted fans. Although fans as status symbols fell out of favor when they were mass-produced for the lower classes, their popularity surged again in the 1800s. Early 19th-century Europeans considered fans fashionable and vital for any established lady. They were used as a tool that could be wielded for modesty’s sake or put to more flirtatious purposes.

Fan popularity declined again during the 20th century and dwindles still today. Fans persist in Asia and several other parts of the world, but in most societies they are not the cultural staple they once were. With the onset of electric fans and air conditioners, handheld fans are no longer an indispensable cooling device, and production of the traditional handheld fan has decreased. In America, broad pieces of cardboard plastered in advertisements or plastic folding fans at carnivals are the most frequently encountered examples of this ancient art.

Items from the collection in this exhibit come from a wide range of locales, including Asia, North America, South America, Africa, and Oceania. The range of styles, materials, and decoration evident in this gallery illustrates the variety and plasticity of fans throughout cultures and time.

References

Alexander, Helene. Fans. New York: Drama, 1994.

Armstrong, Nancy. A Collector’s History of Fans. London: Crown, 1974.

Fan Circle International. March 2007. http://www.fancircleinternational.org/

Steele, Valerie. The Fan: Fashion and Femininity Unfolded. New York: Rizzoli, 2002.

All photos and text by Chelsea Bilyeu summer 2007

fan
Oceania Fan
cane fan
Cane Fan
fan and case
Fan and Case
child's fan
East Asian Fans
advertising fan
Advertising Fan
advertising fan 2
Advertising Fan
advertising fan 3
Group of Fans
straw fan
Straw Fan
Korean Fan
Korean Fan
West African Fan
West African Fan
cane fan 2
Cane Fan
Feather Fan
Feather Fan
Eagle Feather Fan
Eagle Feather Fan
Pheasant Feather Fan
Pheasant Feather Fan
Turkey Feather Fan
Turkey Feather Fan
Straw Fan
Straw Fan
Leaf Fan
Leaf Fan
Bamboo Fan
Bamboo Fan

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