KAREN ENGELMANN

THE ALLURE OF THE FAN

 

Fans were an unlikely part of the simple household in Iowa where I grew up together with one sister and six brothers. But my mother had a few that she displayed on stands (with the understanding that if you touched them you were toast.) These fans were not extraordinarily old or valuable, but so very lovely — reminders of feminine power and attraction in a house overrun with boys. Later, living in Sweden, I saw an exhibition of rare folding fans at Kulturen Museum in Lund and was mesmerized by their artistry, value, and workmanship. Fans briefly became the subject of some drawings and paintings, then faded from my awareness until revived by the desire to write a novel set in the 18th century.

 

As an expected accessory of any well-dressed lady of that period, I wanted to incorporate a fan in the narrative as an object of some importance. It was not until I did serious reading that their amazing history, use and complexity became clear. During a research visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York to look at 18th century fans, I was struck by the realization that these beautiful objects were not made simply to be admired in a case or on a stand, but to be used. Imagining a fan alive in the hand of an expert was crucial to the development of The Uzanne, and a projected desire of my own: if I could join a class from The Uzanne, I would sign up tomorrow.

 

Now women have their handbags to do some of the work formerly done by fans: indicate style, status, and serve as a useful tool in so many ways. But a purse does not have a language all its own, nor is it of any use on a hot summer day. And a purse does not make a particularly potent weapon. Why not try a fan?  One can still buy beautiful, modern versions — most notably at the two following purveyors: A Cool Breeze (Spain) and Duvelleroy (France.)

Bring back the fan!

 

There are many wonderful books about folding fans.

Click here for a short bibliography.