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Fans in the Age of Plastics

From utilitarian tableware and contemporary clothing, through to avant-garde sculpture and information technology, plastics have, over the past 100 years largely usurped natural materials and come to define consumer culture in the modern era.

A new exhibition at the Fan Museum in Greenwich opening on 29 February charts and examines the development of synthetic materials such as celluloid and their subsequent application to the art and craft of fan-making.

Beginning with ‘nature’s own’ thermo-plastics, tortoiseshell and horn (traditionally used to craft fans of considerable artistry and expense), the exhibition also examines the first experimental forays of the late 19th century, when scientists sought to create polymers with properties similar to those of prestige natural materials. Today, even the most perceptive of gazes can be deceived by fine-quality imitation tortoiseshell.  


Also featured within the exhibition are a number of pocket-size mechanical fans and accompanying patents dating from the first half of the 20th century. These functional yet wholly innovative ‘air-agitating’ devices demonstrate that even the ancient craft of fan-making – virtually unchanged since the 17th century – couldn’t escape the ceaseless drive to modernize and streamline the design and production of all manner of consumer goods. 

Fans in the Age of Plastics

29 February - 3 June 2012

The Fan Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 8ER.

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