Ito Curata â A fan of fans

Fanboys: Bob Miller and Ito Curata with some of their biggest fans (literally).

Ito Curata – A fan of fans

ATTACHMENTS - Nikki Coseteng (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

For most people, hand-held fans serve only one main purpose — to cool one’s self sans electricity or battery. Others look at designs, colors, patterns, themes and materials used.

Yes, there are avid fan collectors out there, those who seek fans of the most exquisite, rarest materials and craftsmanship. For Ito Curata, fashion designer par excellence, and partner Bob Miller, both art aficionados, the best fans to collect are those once used by the aristocracy and royalty of their time!

Fans have had a long journey through history. At least 3,000 years! Their use in early civilizations as cooling and ceremonial devices can be traced back from the time of the Greeks, Etruscans, Romans and the Chinese. And they continue to be in use today.

Like many other art forms, merchants and religious orders brought them to Europe from China, Japan and the Middle East through the silk and spice routes.

The precious fans in the collection of Ito and Bob are framed in glass or hanging on their walls, made of finely carved mother of pearl, ivory and wood. They also tell visual stories, through embroidery, embellishments and hand-painted silk. They depict royal court scenes as well as images from the daily lives of the people of the era.

This awesome fan collection clearly reveals the flair, taste and deep appreciation for objects of value of these art, er, “fans,” and their obsession to preserve the art form.

“I finished my fine arts degree at University of San Francisco,” Ito explains. “In my youth, I loved to paint. But my father was not very supportive of my being an artist. Eventually he realized how much I really liked to paint and that art and the love of it are in my DNA.”

He started collecting fans more than 15 years ago. “They are very beautiful,” he continues. “The lattice work is so finely made and I’m so proud of them. How they were able to carve ivory that fine is still a mystery to me. Most of the fans I have were purchased at antique stores, auctions and flea markets both in the US and in Europe. I have nearly 75 antique fans — more than half are European (French, Italian and Spanish), primarily made in the 1800s.” Most of the fans hanging on the walls of his house are in this category. Approximately 45 fans are displayed, but most of them in storage are from Japan, China and a few from the US.

Bob shares Ito’s passion for fans. “Our tastes are very similar and I also enjoy the hunt,” says Bob. Ito adds: “Bob and I like buying at auctions and looking into small shops. We would often go antiquing. One time when Bob and I were still in the US, we were amazed at the exhibits in the fan museum. They were very unique.”

“We also buy fans at garage sales or at antique shows, chimes in Bob. “Truly one of a kind, they are meant to be appreciated as individual pieces of art.”

Pointing to one of his favorites that could be a Chinese fan, Ito says, “This is one of the most interesting because it is made of ivory, silk and wood. Look at it! The faces in the fan are made of ivory!”

Fans have been an essential fashion accessory for thousands of years in most cultures. “The first constructed fans date back to ancient Egypt,” relates Ito, a true “fan” of history. “The fans of that period were fixed and could not be folded. They were designed as a panel attached to a stick. Later, embellishments such as feathers were introduced in ancient Greece and Italy. Chinese fan makers may have been the first to turn the fan into an art form with the introduction of ivory handles, paintings and poems.”

A far cry from the fans we use today!

“Folding fans with an attached pleated leaf probably originated in Japan around the 12th century but simple forms of foldable fans did not reach Europe until the 16th century. By the end of the 17th century, folding fans took over from fixed fans as the preference of ladies.

However, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that European fans began to appear with intricate paintings like the ones I have on several walls of my own home. “The aristocrats considered fans to be a status symbol, so they commissioned artists to make fans for them, depicting special occasions in their lives,” explains Ito.

In addition to ivory, European fans were also made with Mother of Pearl, inlays, gems and other fine embellishments. As a result, only the very rich could afford these highly decorated fans like the ones with hand-painted scenes, generally showing aristocratic or royal lifestyles, that dramatically come to life when the fans are unfolded.

Pointing to another exquisite fan, Ito elaborates: “This very special fan of Mother of Pearl with small sequins, it’s probably an opera fan done in mixed media.” There is history behind every fan, Ito says. “This one with a medallion has a portrait in it — perhaps of a member of a royal or an aristocratic family who would commission artists to hand-paint fans for special occasions.”

In the mid 19th century, the most lavish fans were made in Paris, which became the center for producing magnificent fans. Well-known artists signed the fans they painted; artisans did the same with the exquisite sticks and guards they carved.

“Here’s one made of elegantly and finely carved bones,” Ito says, giving us the tour. “Some fans have intricately carved sticks and guards of ivory or Mother of Pearl. They’re as fine as hair!”

There’s a commemorative Spanish fan showing the wife of Napoleon, Josephine, painted on it. These commissioned works of art indeed tell a story: not just the images, but of the owners, too. “This fan has a mirror in it, adding another use for the owner. I also have an unusual fan made of chicken skin! A special pigment, not just ordinary paint was used for this.”

In the Art Nouveau period (early 1900s) there were many fans that carried advertising images. Later, during the Art Deco period (1920s), feather fans became popular. Huge ones made from ostrich feathers were all the rage.

Of course today, most of us just rely on flat, pop-up, disposable, plastic and cardboard fans, more often than not with faces or products prominently printed, to ensure that the advertiser is remembered while the fan is in use. Less art, more commerce; but always practical.

I asked Ito what he intends to do with all these fans. “Just display and enjoy them, especially the opera fans. Most if not all of them are so fragile and are not meant to be used anymore so I keep them framed and displayed in my house.”

Waking up every day, surrounded by these ornate, prized possessions indeed seems wonderfully inspiring. It makes one marvel at how such small, portable and lightweight objects can actually fill a useful purpose even today, making life more bearable in the days when air conditioning was unimaginable. Perhaps, too, a carefully held fan was the most elegant way to hide a missing tooth, blushing cheeks, or perhaps to keep one mysteriously elegant and flirtatious in the search for a mate?





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Email the author at nikkicoseteng2017@gmail.com or text her at +639974337154.

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