I had not heard of this museum until a friend wanted to see a special exhibition that was looking at fans in advertising, and I decided to tag along as I wanted to see this niche museum for myself. The museum is in Greenwich in SE London and is a 10 minute walk from the Docklands Light Railway station. It is situated in two converted houses and has some lovely tea rooms at the back serving afternoon tea. There is also a gift shop selling fan related gifts including jewellery. It costs just £4 to visit (concessions available, free for Art Fund members) and there is a free guide you can borrow. I think it is a few pounds more for the special exhibitions.
The museum has a permanent exhibition which is the history of the fan, and shows the components and evolution of fan design. They also have temporary special exhibitions that show for a few months each year, so you can see more of their extensive collection. When I visited it was the art of fans in advertising and showed an impressive array of colourful fans used to promote various businesses. These fans were mostly French and very stylish, often used to promote premium products such as champagne, hotels and luxury shops. Some fans originated from the early 19th century and in the run up to the 1930s there were used often in advertising, the colours and designs evoked the era perfectly.
Afterwards we went to the Orangery at the back of the museum for tea and scones. It is a really charming space. You don't need to allow much time to see the museum, but I think it is well worth timing it with a special exhibition that may appear to you - be it the style or the era.
A fashionable woman in the past needed a number of accessories, shoes, hat, and a fan. recently reviewed Stockport's hat museum. So I thought I would also review the Greenwich Fan Museum as it would compliment the previous review nicely.
The Fan Museum at Greenwich is the first and only museum to be dedicated to fans. It was founded by Helene Alexander in 1991 to share her life long passion for the subject. She has a collection of 3500 objects which are not all on show at the same time due to the fragility of many of the fans. It's housed in two adjoining skilfully restored Georgina houses on Royle Hill in the centre of Greenwich. The museum is just opposite the north western corner of Greenwich Park just round the corner from the Maritime Museum. It is easily accessed by public transport as a number of bus services run very near it . Greenwich station and Cutty Sark DLR station are both within ten minutes walk of the museum. For those who are driving I think there is limited parking at the museum.
As i is a private museum there are charges
Children (under 7): Free
Over 7 and under 16: £3
Admission for groups: £2.50pp
On a Tuesday there is free entry for disabled people and pensioners. I think the museum is average value for money as it is quite a small museum which can easily be seen in under an hour.
The museum is very easy navigate as it is small and compact. It only takes about half an hour to an hour at the maximum to fully explore. On the ground floor you have the permanent collection whilst the upstairs gallery houses a temporary exhibition. On arrival into the first room of the downstairs we were greeted by a very friendly attendant and we were offered the choice of interpretation in the form of a booklet or an audio guide for us to make sense of the permanent collection. I chose the audio guide as I find them easier to use. There were also labels on the walls adjacent to exhibits giving further information.
The permanent collection is made up of mostly antique fans dating as a far back as the 13th century. The tour starts off by explaining the development of fans in Europe and showing a selection of fans both intact and displayed stretched out without the pivots that hold a fan togetherness other room next door explores the materials fans are made from such as ivory, tortoiseshell, lace and silk. It was good to have some ivory and tortoiseshell on display to see how the material is in tits natural state (although I am not particularly fond of seeing turtle shell and elephant tusks at all. I find them quite sad objects as they are remnants of magnificent creatures). I was very taken with an ornately carved ivory fan that at first glance looked like a lace one. I just found the level of draftsmanship astonishing. The collection continued with examples of different types of fan and unusual ones. There were telescopic fans that worked in the same way as the telescopic, miniature umbrellas. There was also a fan that was very like a Swiss Army Knife as the sticks had little hidden compartments to keep a thimble and other useful objects that a fashionable;e lady would need. At the end of the section there was a small display of mortised and electric fans.
Upstairs is the temporary exhibition area. These are rotated every three or four months as the fans are often very fragile and constant display would cause damage to their condition. The temporary exhibitions have ranged from Chinese fans to Victorian and Art Deco fans. The exhibition which was on when I visited the museum was entitled Fanning the Senses. This exhibition concentrated on floral patterned fans and also antique perfume bottles. The ans seemed to be categorised by the flowers on the fan. I was interested in the advertising fans on display that were used to promote various scents. There were also some very beautiful fens but after a while Ii found it a bit boring as there were only so many floral fans you can look at before you lose interest.
Downstairs there is a small shop with very carefully chosen merchandise. All the stock has a connection with fans and there is very little if no tat at all. There is some lovely jewelry as well as mirrors and notelets in the shape of fans. A lot of the stuff would make nice and unusual presents. I purchased a magnet in the shape of a fan commemorating a 1920s Olympic Games
Round the back of the museum an orangery has been constructed to join the two houses together. It's a lovely outdoor space with beautifully painted murals on th walls. On Tuesdays and Sundays thy serve cream teas in the Orangery. Since I was there on a Saturday I did not get to taste one but it sounds a nice idea to have tea in such a pretty location. Outside there is a garden with flowerbeds in the shape of a fan and a Japanese style secret garden beyond the formal garden.
The museum is not bad for a small independent museum. I found the audio guide to be useful and interning. I think I gained more from the collection than if I was just walking around reading the labels. There were mentions of sponsors in the audio guide that did annoy me to an extent, although I do realise it is a small muumuu that does need funding and they were not too many of them. The presentation of the museum was very traditional, as most of the objects were in cases or behind glass. I understand this as they are delicate objects. Due to this I can see the Fan Museum having limited appeal unless someone has some interest in costume history or beautiful objects . This is really not a place to take children (or most men) as they would be very bored. The museum does have an education department but I do not see this at all. It would be nice to have samples of materials to touch. The Hat Works did this in their section on hat materials and it did contribute to the museum visiting experience. The other thing that would have been good would have been a small corner with a chance to make a basic fan or perhaps some cheaper modern fans to try out.
I enjoyed my visit to the Fan Museum but I can not see myself rushing back to visit unless there was a temporary exhibition that really interested me.. The permanent collection is too small to make a repeat visit viable especially since it is a charging museum. So I would not say Iwas a big fan of the Fan Museum just a casual admirer.
12 Crooms Hill,
Opening Hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 11am - 5pm
Sunday: 12 noon - 5pm
The Fan Museum, Greewich, Crooms Hill, is the only museum in the world devoted entirely to every aspect of fans and fan making. The Fan Museum has more than 3,500 predominantly antique fans from around the world dating from the 11th century to the present day. Its collection and fans on loan from other collections are displayed in changing themed exhibitions in which fans are presented in their historical, sociological and economic contexts. Visitors can enjoy the designs of these unique items which have served many purposes over the centuries: ceremonial tools, fashionable accessories, status symbols, commemorative presents or advertising giveaways.