The Fan Museum is a reminder, for both visitors and staff, of a former, gentler age when courtesy and care were extended widely. Perhaps the genteel nature of the collection makes it so or maybe it is due to the founders, Hélène and A.V. (‘Dicky’) Alexander? These two individuals – a husband and wife whose passion created this small independent museum – both came from families with a long tradition of hospitality, and this ethos is reflected in the museum’s special atmosphere.
The museum is housed in two fine townhouses built in 1721, which have been lovingly restored. At the rear, the elegant Orangery, decorated with hand-painted murals, has an enchanting and peaceful atmosphere – ‘an oasis of tranquillity’. Hélène Alexander, MBE, is a leading authority on the history of fans. Over the past forty years she has amassed a priceless collection of fans and related objects. It is this collection that forms the basis of the museum’s holdings of over 4,000 fans and other items including fan leaves, rare books and fan related artefacts. Every fan holds something of interest, even the cheapest souvenir – they record historic events, advertise everything from travel to restaurants, relate to personalities of distinction and tell us much about the craftsmen who fashioned them and the times in which they lived. They have, for far too long, been regarded as frivolous objects but fans can be works of art in their own right: a fan leaf by Paul Gauguin dated 1887 is on permanent display.
When asked if she has a favourite fan and with over four thousand objects to choose from, Hélène hesitates, “I do not think it is possible. Perhaps, I would select two fans, both lovely – my grandmother's wedding fan, and Princess Stephanie of Monaco’s wedding fan. Both commemorate a special day in a lady's life, the first for a happy and loving marriage, the other for one of the saddest unions in history. This is an extract from Beth Smith's article in the Romance issue of Selvedge. The Fan Museum See their site for fan making workshops and exhibitions.