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What Is the Fan Museum?

Daphne Mallory
Daphne Mallory

Known as the first of its kind, the Fan Museum is dedicated to the fan and the art of fan making. Located in a Greenwich World Heritage Site in South East London, the museum allows visitors to view more than 400 fans collected from all over the world, some dating back to the 11th century. Fans are presented in exhibits that put their historical and sociological significance in context for visitors. The museum opened in 1991 and has received awards from the English Tourist Board and the National Art Collections Fund.

Exhibits include the famous Helene Alexander collection as well as a famed Walter Richard Sickert fan made possible through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Sickert, known to be influenced by tabloid scenes as well as the theatre, painted Victorian and Edwardian scenes. The fan depicts Little Dot Hetherington giving a performance on stage at the Old Bedford Theatre. Created on gouache on vellum and placed on mother-of-pearl sticks and guards, the scene is taken from Sickert's own painting and is carefully replicated on a fan leaf shape.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The Fan Museum boasts a myriad of diverse fans. Included are the Felix Alexandre fans, which were used by the empress of Russia, the queen of the Netherlands, and Queen Victoria of England. Alexandre's fans were created by a team of artists and designers, the first to ever occur in the art of fan making. Also on display is the beautiful "white devils" fan made out of ivory, depicting a European merchant being sent away by an Asian gentleman. A lily pond is also depicted on it, containing carp and goldfish, making it one of the many intriguing fans found at the Fan Museum.

Although most fans aren't viewable due to conservation efforts, visitors can still take part in many workshops. One in particular is the fan-making workshop. Visitors can learn from experts about the history of the fan and the amount of knowledge that goes into the fan-making craft. Classes are also available where visitors will make two distinct styles of fans to take home with them. Bookings must be made in advance. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday. Children under age 7 are admitted free. Entrance is also free for visitors who are London Pass holders. The Fan Museum has a gift shop that includes a wide variety of books, knickknacks, and fans.

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