Fans Unfolded – exhibition film

The Fitzwilliam Museum has a significant
collection of about 1,500 fans, made mainly in England, Europe and Asia, and dating from the early 1700s
to the late 1900s. These fans represent
a great diversity of forms, materials, decoration and techniques. Many of the most remarkable examples come from the collection
of Colonel Leonard CR Messel and his daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse. The Messel-Rosse collection
was given to the museum in 1985 by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum with a grant
from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. 30 years later, in 2015, Her Majesty’s government allocated
the fan collection of the late Honourable Christopher
Lennox Boyd to the museum, in lieu of inheritance tax. Mostly made in England and Europe
through the 18th to the 20th centuries, these fans range in type from bejewelled
and hand-painted court and wedding fans to printed,
mass-produced advertising fans, aide-memoir fans, mourning fans
and even children’s fans. These 627 fans have significantly enhanced
the Fitzwilliam’s fan collection, making it now one of the largest
and most important in the UK. Given the range of subjects portrayed and the large geographical
and chronological span represented, the Lennox-Boyd fans
have enormous potential for inter-disciplinary
and cross-cultural research and public engagement. Regrettably, many of the Lennox-Boyd fans
are in slightly poor condition and so they cannot be handled
without risk of further damage. So, this impedes access and research. In order to understand
the overall collection care needs, as well as the conservation priorities
and the costs involved, the museum’s Marlay group generously
funded a pilot project. This involves appraising the condition
and conservation needs of about 20%, so about a fifth of the collection, with a few fans receiving
full conservation treatment. This video and the accompanying exhibition tells the story
of the conservation project so far. You’ll be hearing from the conservators involved in conserva tion aspects
of the show. The first phase of this project was to estimate the condition of the Lennox-Boyd fan collection. We decided to do this
by taking a sample of the collection and looking at that very closely. The fans are made with multiple materials and require different specialists
to conserve them. I work with three-dimensional objects. My treatments on the fans will be focused, normally, on the sticks
and guards of a folding fan. This fan has bone sticks and guards. During the cleaning process, I don’t want
to be handling this fan too much. What I’ve decided to do is use a gel
which acts as a poultice to bring all the dirt which is within
the crevices of the decoration and the cavities of the bone. To remove any residue from the gel, I will
use deionised water with a cotton swab and wipe away the residue
as well as the dirt from the surface. This fan is another folding fan, which has mother-of-pearl
sticks and guards. Here is where that adhesion
has now failed over time. This is probably
because animal glue was used. I will use a synthetic adhesive instead,
to re-adhere this. The reason being
is that I want conservators and any researchers in the future
to be able to assess this object and know the area where I intervened. The last fan I want to show you
is a screen fan that has this wonderful
hummingbird taxidermy in the middle. What I’ll show you today is a patch of Japanese tissue down that I will use to cover a surface
of the taxidermy bird which has been eaten by pests in the past. I had to match the colour of this section
to that of the body of the bird. The paper conservator’s responsible
for assessing the condition of the fan, and documenting that condition then making decisions
on which treatments to undertake to make the fan stable and displayable for research purposes
and for the exhibition. Probably the most common treatment
I carried out on this fan collection was various types of surface cleaning
of dirt and dust from the fans and mould spores. I was doing this
with a variety of brushes. I also used a variety of erasers
and other products that you might expect to use
for removing dirt and dust. The other treatments that I did
quite a few of were repairs to the splits and, in some cases, quite extensive tears
that had occurred in the objects. Some of the repairs
are very simple that we do, just little bridge mends
on the back of the fans to join sections together. Where possible,
I would open up the two fan leaves and insert a very small Japanese paper
repair inside the fan leaf. Conservators are really interested
in materials and techniques that make up the objects
that they’re treating and they need to know about that before they consider what treatments
are appropriate for them. This light box shows you
the two pieces of paper quite clearly that are lightly adhered together to make the sheet. We can pinpoint the paper-maker
that made this paper and the actual date
because of the watermark. You can see these two water droplets, the way they’ve affected the fibres
in the paper as it was formed. The water droplets have dripped off
the edge of the paper-maker’s mould as he’s lifted the fresh sheet of paper out of the vat
that the paper was made from. There are two main challenges
in trying to analyse fans. One is that they’re fragile
and light-sensitive. For this reason, we have to employ
a non-invasive approach, which means that we have to carry out all
of our analysis without removing samples and without even physically touching
the fans during the analysis. That is why, for example, reflectance spectroscopy
is an especially useful technique. The instrument has an optical fibre
which you can take in your hand and you can manoeuvre around
the three-dimensional shape of the object, getting very close to the surface, despite the fact that it isn’t flat. Performing scientific analysis
on these fans mainly helps us identify the materials
they were made of, and we’re particularly interested
in the pigments used to decorate them. What we can see
from their reflectance spectrum is that whoever painted the fan
used an organic dye, which is an organic colourant
made using either plants or insects. In this case,
we’re using Raman spectroscopy, a different analytical method, to try and identify this bright red
pigment that was used on this fan. The Raman spectrum very clearly shows that
it’s mercury sulphide, vermillion red – a very expensive pigment
and very bright red. It’s still looking bright
after hundreds of years. DR AVERY: What we’d like to do now
is raise money in order to be able to assess
the preservation needs of the remaining 80%
of the Lennox-Boyd collection. Obviously, it’s not really practical
or possible to conserve all of them to a displayable state. But what we do want to do is be able to
conserve them so that they are handleable, safe for researchers and students
to come in and enjoy them. Obviously, there’ll be some really
spectacular ones, very rare, to be able to display those, eventually. So, lots of conservation there, but also working out safe storage for them and to document them and photograph them and get them all
onto our online catalogue. This is just the first step of a much
more ambitious longer-term project, so please watch this space.

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