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Peacock Feather Fan Artifact highlight #40

This folding brisé fan was donated to our collection in 1951. It is made of carved ivory sticks connected with a row of white feathers and peacock feather tips.

The white feathers are painted with figurative and floral designs in red, blue and green. A medallion with a blue border has a painted scene showing a man and a woman holding fans and cups. The woman’s fan is folded, and the man’s fan is open. A metal ring connects all sticks. The fan was made in China around 1875-1912.

Brisé (French: “broken”) fans were exported from China and Japan beginning in the 17th century. Unlike pleated fans made of silk or paper, brisé fans were made of separate thinly sliced and decorated sticks of bone, wood or tortoiseshell connected by ribbon or thread and held together at the bottom by a ring or a rivet. The sticks overlapped when the fan was folded.

Peacock motifs have been used for millennia as symbols of beauty, wealth, rebirth as well as pride. Peacock feathers and peacock designs were very popular during the 19th century and were often used by fashion designers, interior designers and artists of the Aesthetic and Art Nouveau movements.

Couple c 1880. Enid Griffith Collection. PCM Collection

Fans were an essential lady’s fashion accessory. They have been made in China and Japan for centuries, and during the 19th century many were made solely for export to the West, with designs that would appeal to Western buyers.

San Francisco Examiner December 18, 1892

They were sometimes made as part of an outfit, with matching fabric and decorations. Fans were also instrumental in coquetry and are often described as a means to communicate through the movements and gestures of the “language of the fan,” but it seems that this was more a marketing strategy rather than an actual way to communicate.

The San Francisco Examiner December 3, 1916

The popularity of the fan as an essential fashion accessory ended with the “modern woman” of the 1920s. Paper fans became a popular tool used in advertising department stores, restaurants and theatres and were often given away as free gifts with purchase or bought as souvenirs.

Background Image: Woman with a fan c. 1920. PCM Collection

The fan was donated by Oveta Walsh, who worked as the Chief Deputy in the office of County Assessor, S. Guy Lukens, in the 1950s. She was the President of the Auburn Parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West and a member of the Downtown Civic Betterment Association. She died in Auburn in 1962.

Auburn Journal November 30, 1950

Background Image: Woman with fan, c. 1880. PCM Collection