Volume 5, Number 1, March 1983, pp.4-5

Fan Collection Preserved

by Carmela Simons Hopper and Nancy Sloper

(photographs, before and after trt.)

In the Spring of 1981 we were asked to set up a conservation program for the Winston Fan Collection belonging to the Museum of the Southwest in Texas. The collection comprises some six hundred and twenty-five fans, the bulk of which are eighteenth and nineteenth century European with about fifty of Oriental manufacture.

Our first task, the examination of over six hundred fans and the subsequent typing of the condition/proposed treatment reports, seemed gargantuan: we made this manageable by devising a coded condition checklist covering former repairs on leaf, blades, and guards, accretions on leaf, blades, and guards, structural damage on leaf, sticks, blades, decorative elements, and rivets. We correlated this with a proposed treatment checklist. The checklists were made up on the basis of an examination of a random sampling of the fans.

We then proceeded to work on a conservation priorities list: we did this by breaking down the collection into categories and making a priority listing in each. We chose to divide the fans into two main groups, European and Oriental, and subdivide these into groups according to type of material and construction. The Museum had also asked us to choose a small number of fans for an exhibition. We decided that it would be appropriate for the exhibition to be an introduction to the collection and therefore picked out one or two fans from each of our established categories, forty-eight fans in all; these were chosen for their historical importance, quality of craftsmanship, and attractiveness.

These forty-eight fans were the first of the collection to be conserved. The treatment of a further group of sixty-three fans, was completed in December-82.

Conservation of the fans posed some problems, including the lack of literature on treatment, the fragility and mutability of the materials of which fans are made (such as silk gauze, paper-thin ivory and mother-of-pearl, silver foil), and the extensive repairs which practically every fan in the collection had undergone. With the example of former repairs before us, we decided on the minimal amount of treatment that would be consistent with holding the fan together. Splits in the leaves were repaired with strips of a lightweight Japanese tissue or silk net and wheatpaste or heat seal adhesives. Some of the leaves, however, notably the silk gauzes, were so badly deteriorated that we were obliged to mount the whole leaf on silk net. Broken ivory blades and guards were repaired with ivory splints (made from milled old ivory piano keys) and PVA adhesive. Guards that needed a more rigid support were mounted on balsa wood with a Japanese tissue or Mylar interlining. Cleaning was also kept to a minimum: leaves were brushed, powered rubber was used on some of the paper leaves, and trichlorethylene was used to remove cellophane tape residues. Blades and guards were cleaned with damp swabs, the very grubby ones with a neutral detergent solution.

We hope that the Museum will be able to continue funding the conservation treatment program; however, that may not be possible. As the Museum wants the fans to be used as a study collection as well as a source of exhibition material, we have suggested that a curatorial binder be made and used as an alternative to handling the extremely fragile untreated fans. The binder would consist of a double page for each fan, with a description of subject matter, materials and construction, provenance and date where possible, and photographic documentation. Because we feel that proper storage is a most important part of conservation, we have also designed cabinets to house the collection. They will be built of yellow poplar with hardwood plywood drawer bottoms and will be fairly small, stackable, dust sealed, ventilated, and lockable, with a system of removable drawers. The drawers will hold sectioned trays made of double-walled acid free card covered with cotton velveteen.

We are grateful to the Museum of the Southwest and to Mr. Winston, for giving us the opportunity to do a complete conservation project on the collection, and thus making it possible for us to be able to contribute a little more information on the treatment of fans.

Carmela Simons Hopper and Nancy Sloper
Textile Conservation Workshop
Winter, California

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