We're back! Loretta and I hope you enjoyed your break as much as we did, though we know that you didn't neglect us entirely while we'd gone fishin'.
How do we know? Because according to our stats, last month you continued to visit this blog even while we were away, making us pass the amazing (at least we are amazed!) milestone of three MILLION page views since our launch five years ago. As we've often said, we began this blog to amuse one another, never dreaming that there'd be so many of you willing to come along for our meandering ride. We're so glad you did, and thank every one of you for your continuing support.
While I was away, I visited one of my favorite small museums, the RISD Museum in Providence, RI. As part of the Rhode Island School of Design, the museum was founded in 1877. At the time, Rhode Island was one of the most heavily industrialized regions in the country, and the museum's founders hoped to inspire better design in manufacturing in general as well as inspiring their students. As the liberal arts in modern colleges and universities are facing charges of irrelevancy in a high-tech world, it's ironic that these 19th c. New Englanders understood that even the manufacturers of humble screws and files would benefit from viewing the finest examples of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. (Read more about the museum's mission and history here.)
One of my favorite galleries in this favorite museum is the Donghia Study Center. Here pieces from the sizable Costumes and Textiles collection are rotated through the large, flat glass-topped drawers. I never know what I'll find when I roll out a drawer: a 17thc. knitted waistcoat from Italy, a length of a 20thc. African textile, high-button shoes or beaded flapper hats. For someone like me who's fascinated by the history of clothing, it's one discovery after another, and it's probably just as well I was the only one there that day so that I could ooh and ahh without disturbing anyone else.
Among the treasures this visit were an assortment of 19thc. fans. Readers who follow my Instagram account - which can be found here - will recognize this trio, since I already shared my own pictures the day I saw them. These photos of the fans are from the museum's web site, without the necessary protective glass over them. They seem like both the perfect way to wave good-bye to summer's heat, and as elegant examples of transforming a mundane necessity in pre-air-conditioning days into a beautiful fashion accessory.
Top left: Brisé fan, George Keiswetter for the Allen Fan Company, American, c. 1890. Painted feathers, wood sticks, silk ribbon. Right: Nosegay fan, Marie Vincent for S.Levy, manufacturer, French, c. 1898. Silk with wooden sticks. Lower left: Folding fan, unknown artist, Japanese, 19thc. Painted paper, wood sticks. All fans from collection of RISD Museum; all photographs via RISD Museum.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.