Design and Construction of a Support for a
The conservation treatment of this 18th C. French gentleman's fan
will not be the focus of today's presentation. Rather, the challenge
of creating a safe and unobtrusive support for its exhibition and
storage after its stabilization is the topic of this brief talk.
I'd like to use Diagram A below to establish
the standard terminology commonly used in describing the parts of a
typical folding fan.
Starting at the base, the rivet is a pin which provides
the structural pivot point for the folding fan. The rivet is
inserted through the head of the sticks. The two outermost
sticks are called the guards, and are of a sturdier
construction in order to protect the fan while folded. As the sticks
narrow and enter the leaf, they are called slips or ribs. The
flexible fabric, paper or vellum which is used to join and cover the
framework of slips is known as the mount or fan leaf.
Diagram A. The Anatomy of a Folding Fan
As you can see, the structural strength of the fan is in the
head, where the sticks are thickest and are stacked on the rivet,
while the weakest structural areas are the folds in the paper leaf.
This fragile three-dimensionality, combined with the double-sided
decoration, posed the greatest challenges in the design process.
Additionally, I sought a design which would be:
- constructed of archivally safe materials
- unobtrusive as a display element
- capable of being displayed vertically or horizontally, and
- allow viewing without further handling or manipulation of the
The construction of the final support design is outlined in the
following steps with several diagrams to clarify the structure as it
- First, the fan was opened just far enough to show the design to
advantage without causing additional stress to the folds. The
perimeter of the fan was traced lightly on a 4-ply sheet of
acid-free ragboard. The ragboard was cut so that the top of the fan
leaf would extend slightly beyond the upper edge of the support. A
graceful curve was cut in the lower edge which echoes the curve of
the fan and sweeps in an arc towards the head of the right guard.
The purpose for this curve will become clearer as I go on.
- Maintaining the same extension, the fan was carefully turned
over and the painted design on the reverse of the fan leaf was
measured. A bevelled oval window was marked and cut in the ragboard
- Because the sticks and topmost guard gradually increase in
height towards the right of the fan, additional support was
required. The thickness of the closed fan (up to the underside of
the topmost guard) was measured to determine the height of the slope
required to support the gradually increasing height of the sticks. A
long rectangular piece of matboard was cut and adhered beneath the
right edge of the fan-shaped ragboard to establish the slope of the
ramp. A tapered wedge of ragboard was then adhered along the lower
curved cut to complete the ramp. (Diagram B)
- A sheet of flexible, acid-free, 10 point folder stock was
selected as a suitable material for the next step. The fan leaf and
dimensions of the folds were measured and the measurements
transferred to the sheet of folder stock. The folds were scored with
a bone folder and the folder stock creased to create an
accordian-like support for the fan leaf. The pleated support was
placed on the ramp and the oval window traced and cut so that it
matched the bevelled opening already cut in the ragboard support.
Diagram B. Matboard Ramp with Pleated Support
- The pleated support was then positioned on the ragboard ramp and
was secured along each of the depressed folds at two locations above
and below the oval window. A single running stitch of linen thread
was passed through small perforations and knotted on the underside
of the ramp
Diagram C. Method of Securing the Sticks
- The fan was placed in position on the pleated ramp and ¼"
notations were made to either side of each stick just below the fan
leaf. The fan was removed and slits were made with a scalpel through
the matboard ramp at the marks. A ¼" strip of polyester film
was laced over each stick and then beneath the ragboard ramp, gently
securing the framework with slight tension. (Diagram
Diagram D1. Attachment of fan leaf as
seen from top edge
See Diagram D2 below
Diagram D2. Closeup of a single hinge
at top edge of fan leaf.
- An additional precaution was taken to attach the fan to the
pleated support along the top edge. Tiny hinges of Japanese paper
and wheat starch paste were used about every third pleat. These were
applied with the fold of the hinge towards the depressed fold of the
leaf to permit a certain amount of flexing of the fan leaf along the
tented folds. The position of these small hinges was marked on the
support so that caution would be exercised if the fan were ever
removed from its mount. (Diagrams D1 and D2)
- Ribs of layered matboard were attached with double-sided tape to
the underside of the ramp to prevent warpage or sagging of the ramp.
Diagram E. Collar to support the head of a
folding fan while exhibited(top view)
- A small collar was fashioned from folder stock to provide
additional support for the head of the fan if stored or displayed in
an upright position. This was done by measuring half the thickness
of the closed fan on a small rectangular piece of folder stock.
Beyond this fold line, gores were cut at ¼" intervals and the
collar was folded and curved. The collar was positioned beneath the
head of the fan and was adhered to the ragboard mount with PVA
adhesive. (Diagram E)
- A fan-shaped window mat was cut from 4-ply, acid-free mat board.
An infrastructure was constructed of acid-free corrugated panels and
short lengths of hollow Plexiglas tubing to elevate the mat window
above the fan surface. Strips of mat board were adhered with PVA
beneath the window mat to create a shadow box effect.
Diagram F. Cross section of sealed housing
- Finally, sheets of ultraviolet filtering Plexiglas were placed
on either side of the matted fan and the edges of the package were
secured with clear polyester film tape. This sealed package provides
a barrier against airborn pollutants as well as rapid fluctuations
in temperature and relative humidity. (Diagram
Every three-dimensional paper artifact has its own idiosyncrasies
and presents challenges for curators and conservators. I hope that
this exhibition/storage system will inspire other innovative
designs. The advantage of this particular housing is its suitability
for both temporary exhibition and permanent storage. The fan need
not be removed for either situation. If project goals are
established at the outset, simple techniques and commonly available
materials can be used to solve the design problems in the most
expedient, uncomplicated, and attractive manner.
I would like to acknowledge the entire staff of the Conservation
Center for Art and Historic Artifacts for their helpful and
imaginative ideas during the design of the support, but especially
to thank Elizabeth Schulte, Supervising Conservator; Johnny
Irizarry, whose expertise helped make the final structure a work of
art; and Maria Holden, for her willingness to stand in for me today
to present this lecture.
Holly Maxson, Private Conservator
427 S 16th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146