A Pleasant Surprise

There are many items in the back recesses of the museum that were accessioned, catalogued, numbered, and housed years ago that rarely find there way into the light.  I often find myself stumbling upon items in the costume and textile collection that were catalogued far before I was here and if I haven’t had a reason to disturb a nicely packed box, I may not realize these wonderful items exist.  However, every once-in-a-while a project, or in this case a researcher’s project, comes up that requires diving into a seldom opened box, and each time the result is something surprising.

ImageThis past week we had a researcher into the museum looking at a variety of our costume materials.  One collection of interest was our fans.  The fans are housed in boxes and grouped by time period.  Since our researcher was looking for a particular type of imagery on fans, we had to open up every fan for a certain time period (well, the ones that weren’t photographed) in order to ascertain the image it portrayed, if any.  While going through the fans, we ran across a particularly lovely box with a Paris label covered in an 18th century-style silk.

ImageThe fan, 1983.136.1a,b, was donated to the Connecticut Historical Society by Rita M. Bianchi.  According to the donor file, the fan originally belonged to either her Grandmother or Godmother.  The fan dates from the late 19th to early 20th century and is a beautiful representation of the ostentatious nature of fashion accessories at the time.

Beginning around America’s centennial celebrations in 1876 through the 1940s a decorative period harkening back to colonial times took hold.  The Colonial Revival, as it was referred to, manifested itself in every aspect of life from the theme of parties to imagery on accessories (to learn more about the Colonial Revival check out THIS article over on our YourPublicMedia page).  Although made in France, this fan’s melding of the historical past with an innovative future likely appealed to its American purchaser due to the Colonial Revival movement .  Take a look…


Not only was the fan a joy to open with its beautiful imagery full of color and sparkle, but it was also fascinating once you begin to look closely.  Notice the image in the center…

ImageA historically inspired gentleman playing to two beautiful ladies.  The image calls to mind an imagined historical past.  One where ladies sat in gardens being serenaded and drinking tea, not having a care in the world.  This presumed past (you never see depictions of ratty women milking cows and dirty men plowing fields) stood in stark contrast to the late Victorian world of factories and urban life.  What I find most amusing about this particular fan are the scenes that flank the trio in the middle…

Image          Image

Did you look closely?  Did you see the charming little cherubs…talking on the telephone!  Our researcher pointed out their mode of communication to me and I couldn’t help but laugh.  Depicted on this fan is not only a scene of historical serenity, but also of modern innovation.

This elaborate folding fan speaks to the high level of fan design being accomplished in France during the period.  Fans were often exhibited at World’s Fairs and other international exhibitions, with France frequently taking top honors.  The fine silk leaf coupled with the intricately designed, likely bone, sticks, makes for quite a beautiful finish with the hand painting and various embellishments.  It is no wonder French fans were admired and sought after.

ImageI could wax poetic about this beautiful fan and the other beautiful fans in our collection, but I will attempt not to ramble.  Perhaps another fan blog post is in my future…

This entry was posted in Collections and tagged , , , by Karen. Bookmark the permalink.

About Karen

Karen DePauw is a Research and Collections Associate at The Connecticut Historical Society. Along with aiding patrons who visit the museum in their research efforts, Karen works behind the scenes with the costume and textile collection. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History, double minoring in Theatre and Theology, from Quincy University. Karen obtained her Master of Science degree at the University of Rhode Island in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising, and Design, with a specialization in Historic Costumes and Textiles.

2 thoughts on “A Pleasant Surprise

    • Museums are places of constant discovery, and I love that it doesn’t stop just because you work there! There are always stories and objects to uncover.

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