Review: A Bird in the Hand, the Fan Museum

Published 30 July 2018

One of the winners of our student writing competition, Danielle Benedetti reviews an exhibition exploring the use of birds' feathers in fan-making.

For inspiration on ways to stay cool this summer, look no further than Greenwich’s Fan Museum, where A Bird in the Hand brings together dozens of feather fans from around the world.

Across two small rooms of the museum’s upper floor, the exhibition proves the craftsmanship and creativity necessary to transform these natural materials into beautiful, practical objects.

With their dyed pastel greens and purples, the opulent European ostrich feather creations surely make the most eye-catching display. The show’s true highlights, though, are those where the design matters as much as the chosen plumage. The inclusion of the museum’s oldest fan, a 10th-century Peruvian piece made with moulted macaw feathers, provides the perfect jumping-off point for seeing how fans change from culture to culture.

With this piece's monochrome, woven simplicity in mind, it's easy to see just how much the craft grew through centuries and countries – in China, with goose feather accents above panels of painted Peking ducks; in Australia, with Emu feathers adorning a shaman’s ritual fan; or in France, with matching ribbon alongside shimmering cockerel feathers.

Additional information about commonly used birds and examples of handcrafted storage boxes complete the stories accompanying each fan, proving that the beauty of making fans comes as much from nature’s ready-made materials as it does from the human ingenuity to make something new.

A Bird in the Hand is free with National Art Pass (£5 standard), until 23 September 2018, the Fan Museum, London.

Originally from Los Angeles, Danielle Benedetti currently lives in London, where she is completing an MA in Cultural Policy, Relations, and Diplomacy.

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