CONSERVATION OF A FAN
SANDRA GREENWALD VIERRA, & BETHUNE GIBSON
In 1876 a silk, embroidered fan was among the articles sent from Thailand (then Siam) to the United States for exhibit in the Centennial Exhibition, which was held in the U.S. Government Building in Philadelphia from May to November 1876. According to the 1876 Smithsonian Annual Report, the objects were made expressly for the exhibit. The date of manufacture is thus established with reasonable accuracy, and the damage sustained over the 100-year period of exposure may be strikingly demonstrated.
Photographs of the 1876 exhibits illustrate the manner in which the objects were displayed; the majority were placed on tables unprotected by cases and often piled in more or less random fashion. Lighting was mostly natural sunlight through large windows extending around the upper walls of the room. An average of 62,000 people arrived per day to see the exhibit.
In December of that year all specimens were crated and sent in twenty-three box cars to Washington, D.C., to be stored in a warehouse. In February 1881, the Arts and Industries Building opened, exhibiting some of these objects. Records do not indicate whether the fan was among them; if not, it was either left in storage in the original warehouse or recrated and placed in another warehouse. Neither temperature nor humidity controls were present in either location.
Later, some of the material was stored in wooden drawers in the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, where, again, no climate control existed. Renovation of this building took place over a long period, ending in 1964 when an air-conditioning system was completed. At this time the Southeastern Asian Collection was transferred to a wing with proper humidity and temperature controls.
In 1975 the fan was discovered during an inventory of the collection, lying in a pine drawer unprotected by any packaging or wrapping. The metal storage unit containing the drawers was, however, reasonably air tight as a close-fitting cover over the front protected the contents from dust and most airborne pollutants.