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Museum Of The Month: The Fan Museum

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 92 months ago
Museum Of The Month: The Fan Museum
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The Orangery's just waiting the scones for afternoon tea
The Japanese-style garden and fan parterre
The Japanese-style garden and fan parterre
Outside the front of the Museum
Outside the front of the Museum
The temporary exhibition space
The temporary exhibition space
Arthur the cat pays a visit
Arthur the cat pays a visit

October dawns, and we have a new Museum of the Month. The Fan Museum really is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. Up the road from the boys' toys of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, it's a delightful oasis in a bustling world and far more informative and surprising than you may initially suppose.

It's the only museum in the world entirely dedicated to the history of fans and to the art and craft of fan making. Initially based on founder Hélène Alexander's personal collection of 1,500 fans, they now hold around 4,000, dating from the 11th century to the present. The museum itself is quite small - it takes up two Georgian townhouses that the founders carefully restored, over five years, to an authentic state - so they hold temporary, themed exhibitions that last four months, showing different items from their own collection and objects on loan from around the world.

The permanent exhibition is a fascinating look at the history of fans and fan making, as well as some of the more stunning pieces. Did you know that it took three years to convert tortoiseshell into a useable material - back when it wasn't protected, of course - softening, flaking and shaping it? Or that fans were not just for cooling off, but were status symbols, opportunities for political propaganda and a place for artists to ply their skills? The Museum holds fans painted by Gauguin and Sickert (stay tuned for more on this one). You should also definitely have a look at the 'Swiss army fan' (our name), which has little compartments for scissors, a comb, sewing kit, mirror and perfume.

On Tuesdays and Sundays from 3pm you can have afternoon tea in the stunning Orangery, overlooking the Japanese-style garden (and French parterre, in the shape of a fan). If you're very lucky you might even encounter Arthur, the friendly ginger cat who lives nearby and likes to visit.

We'll be giving you a close-up of a few of the Museum's finest items during October, as well as looking at their new exhibition and some of the events they run.

The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill Greenwich, is open Tue-Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 12-5pm. Admission £4 / £3 or free for certain concessions.

Last Updated 02 October 2009