A Paquin Fan in FANtasy: The Mona Lee Nesseth Fan Collection


Associate Curator Christina Johnson wrote this post about a very rare fan on display now in FANtasy: The Mona Lee Nesseth Fan Collection, FIDM Orange County Campus Gallery.



“L’Occidentale” Fan
Jeanne Paquin and Paul Iribe
Paris, France
Gift of Mona Lee Nesseth

When I visit museum exhibitions I’m drawn to the objects on display and their meanings, but I also reflect on the many people behind-the-scenes who make those exhibitions happen! This blog entry describes how our team worked together to showcase an important new acquisition1911 pochoir-printed silk fan created by Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936) in collaboration with illustrator Paul Iribe (1883-1935) with its original box, I might add! The fan model is titled L’Occidentale, translated as “The Western Woman.” Each person you’ll meet below shared the goal of successfully acquiring and exhibiting the piece, bringing their own professional expertise and personal interests to the project. Come see it in person in FANtasy: The Mona Lee Nesseth Fan Collection currently at the FIDM Museum Orange County Campus Gallery.  

Kevin Jones, FIDM Museum Curator: I can attest to the fact that Kevin has wanted this particular fan for the FIDM Museum collection for a long time! He adores Paquin’s designs, and this piece is well-known in her oeuvre. But how does a curator devise a wish list? This probably goes without saying, but first they need to know their institution’s mission statement and collecting policy. The FIDM Museum collects objects with “outstanding design merit,” meaning a piece is striking to look at on display or in a photograph, and strongly represents an era, culture, or designer.  

Curators also need to understand the collecting field in general—do other institutions own examples of the piece under consideration? Have they deemed it important enough to present in their own fashion timelines? In this case, examples are held by the Kyoto Costume Institute and the Palais Galliera, among other institutions. We don’t acquire something just because other museums have it, but it’s validating to note whether an object is held by institutions with similar collecting mandates. Conversely, if no one else has it, that can be a good thing, too! It means the FIDM Museum becomes the central institution for a particular design, and we can welcome more researchers and designers to study it. This fan is a rare silk model, whereas most extant versions tend to be printed on paper or vellum. It also has carved and dyed horn sticks rather than the usual tinted wood—perhaps it was intended as a luxury version of a well-known design. I’ve never seen another one with the box, and its shape tells us how early nineteenth century design inspired the series, as the shape is almost identical to fan boxes of that early era. 


Fan with original box

Mona Lee Nesseth, Donor: We have Mona Lee Nesseth to thank for the majority of the remarkable fans in the FIDM Museum collection, which she began donating in 2013. Mona stumbled upon this fan at a shop in Paris and immediately texted Kevin photos.  She had previewed the same model in person at an auction house that very week knowing he was looking for one, but sadly, the paper was in poor condition. Surprisingly, she noted this fan in the shop was made of silk. Mona generously underwrote the fan for the FIDM Museum. Once we heard it had been secured, we couldn’t wait for delivery–it’s always so exciting opening packages here in the Museum offices. 

Custom box

Fan and original box in custom-made archival storage: ethafoam and tyvek mount in blue board box

Carolyn Jamerson, Collections Manager and Mount-Maker: As Collections Manager, Carolyn is responsible for the physical safety and organization of this fan in storage and in transit. She created a custom archival box for the delicate pieces, which are set into voids of hand-carved ethafoam covered in tyvek. She also tracks the location of the piece in our PastPerfect database–from incoming status to permanent location–noting the row and shelf it lives on in storage. Having this location in a database comes in handy when a Curator bursts into storage and asks to see something right then and there! Carolyn also works in preparing objects to be shipped out for loans, which the next person I’ll highlight also has a lot to do with. 

Meghan Hansen, Registrar: The Registrar ensures the correct paperwork is prepared for each acquisition or loan, and that all records are up-to-date in databases and files. Tracking shipments, updating conditions, and noting insurance values are Meghan’s domain. In the case of this fan, she needed to confirm its receipt; consult with the Curators for information needed to accession it into the database; liaiswith the Collections Manager so the custom box could be made; and finally track its movement to and from the conservator and our OC campus gallery. In other words, the Registrar’s job entails multiple discussions with co-workers and contract employees, all while being highly organized! 


Detail edge

Detail of gilt edge 

Irena CalinescuConservator: The fan is in great condition, but needed its gilt paper edging secured, and a detracting loss filled-in. Irena Calinescuof Fine Arts Conservation, LLC here in Los Angeles, performed the treatment, which involved adhering a piece of Gampi Japanese paper cut to exact specifications, gilded and toned to match the patina of the short loss. The edging was adhered with a reversible wheat paste. Careful photographic and written records of any conservation treatment are always kept for future generations to understand exactly what was accomplishedDigital reports are saved in our database, and hard copies are printed for the objects’ collections documentation files.  


Exhibition research in process 

Christina Johnson, Associate Curator: That’s me! Although Kevin and I tend to co-curate exhibitions here at the FIDM Museum, we alternate positions of being what we call ‘the lead’—the Curator with final responsibility for assembling the object list and overseeing interpretation. Sometimes curating boils down to several Word and Excel documents being updated at the same time–so glamorous, I know! For this exhibition, I was given the directive that the chosen fans were to have been donated recently and that they should tell a story of fan artistry throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We had plenty to choose from, thanks to Mona! And then it’s up to me to page through fan publications and search online collections to confirm dates and attributions.  

Understanding the physical exhibition space is an important parameter, too. How many fans will fill the gallery, but still give a bit of negative space for the eye to rest? Abstracting the objects to shapes and colors, what forms look best grouped together? Then there’s always the reality check of budgeting! To supplement our resources, decided to apply for a grant from the Fan Association of North America (FANA) and was delighted to receive generous support for the conservation of select fans and mounts for the exhibition. This meant the brilliant Paquin fan could be included in the display. 


Paquin fan is now treated and on display in FANtasy

Peter Lam, Creative Director: The Museum’s Creative Director, Peter Lam, designs an innovative exhibition space while ensuring it’s safe for the objects displayed. At the beginning of each project I curate, I send Peter photos of the objects along with their dimensions, and talk about possible themes. He devises plans and he, Kevin, and I discuss the details. I’m always excited about that initial ‘blue sky’ meeting. For this exhibition, we wanted all of the fans to seemingly float, which required him to design and fabricate specialized fixtures.  

Leigh Wishner, Museum Coordinator and Joanna Abijaoude, Museum Associate: My co-workers Leigh and Joanna provide support for exhibition logistics, especially publicity, through social media. They make sure the FIDM Museum’s online presence is up-to-date, so we’re best able to share the collection with people who might not be able to view the objects in person. We have them to thank for getting the word out online and in print for people to come and see this amazing piece.  

I hope you’ll come see the Paquin fan in FANtasy: The Mona Lee Nesseth Collection on our FIDM Orange County campus through June 11, 2019, Monday through Friday from 10-5. Just remember, you’ll need to make a viewing appointment with the reception desk by calling 888.974.3436. 

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