Fans are more than just an accessory. They are elegant objects with a fascinating story, used creatively throughout history as a tool of communication and a symbol of status and heritage.
Victoria Ajoku is one of the UK’s last remaining fan maker’s, founder of Fan The Glory With Tori which was recently shortlisted for the Best of Royal Borough of Greenwich Business Awards 2022, in the 'Made in Greenwich' Category.
Victoria tells us about how the history of fans has influenced her work, and how she aims to continue this story in a more inclusive way.
“There are several moments within the history of fans that have inspired my work. I was amazed to discover that in the mid-eighteenth-century women played a role in the production and selling of fans in England. This also was an interesting time as folding fans were no longer a fashion and status symbol, only for the very wealthy but became accessible and affordable for working class people."
"This influences me in my practice through Fan The Glory With Tori, to design workshops that erase the unnecessary elitism (which in a lot of ways still surrounds this craft, from centuries past). I adore the idea of helping to put fan making back on the ‘cultural map’ as a craft that’s accessible and relatable for all people to try, especially as most countries has its own native style of fan.”
Victoria explains that her appreciation for fans stems from her childhood, attending an exhibition which left a lasting impact and sparked her creative interest in fans.
“I have always had a love for the creative and performance arts…I recall seeing ‘Chieftaincy Fans’ when my family and I would attend West African Fundraiser events held in London.
These fans, owned by the ‘Chiefs’, are of the ‘fixed type’ made from various animal’s skins, regarded status symbols of honour and plays a role in the traditional way of ‘greeting’ others’”
Craft took a back seat for a while as Victoria pursued her love of performance, gaining a Musical Theatre BTEC and BA Hons in Drama Theatre & Performance. Victoria's degree introduced her to a variety of props, including fans, which were frequently used on stage as part of dance performances and period dramas. After finishing her MA in Performance and Creative Research, Victoria knew that she was destined for a career in craft.
“It was from here (along with my travels to Europe, I began to collect unique souvenir fans), I knew I really wanted to be ‘A Maker’, working, teaching and trading in crafts.”
Soon after starting out as a craftsperson, making jewellery and paper, Victoria discovered the Heritage Crafts Association’s ‘Radcliff Red List of Endangered Crafts’ for the UK. Included in the list was Fan Making, listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.
“Upon learning this, I felt an immediate ‘call to action’, to implement my passion for crafts (in general) into specifically ‘Reviving the concept of The Fan’ by doing talks, demonstrations and teaching the basic yet fundamental techniques through fun and therapeutic workshops.”
In February 2022, Victoria started her ‘Fan-Vive’: Fan Making Workshop Experiences, with each project designed to be a joyful experience for anyone who wants to learn this ancient craft. In particular, Victoria hopes to use her classes to reach out to the most disadvantaged in society, and points out that the economic disparities in our society have grown as a result of the recent pandemic. Making crafting and wellbeing activities accessible has never been more important.
“’Fan- Vive’ workshops are available for those who are marginalised, disadvantaged or at greater risk of isolation, deprivation or discrimination, including racism and all other prejudices..."
“It is my core belief that through my workshops, all people should have the chance to feel nurtured and cared for by engaging through the therapeutic fan craft activities I offer.”
Unlike the 10 second paper fans that you probably made at school, each of Victoria’s beautifully patterned folding fans takes roughly an hour to craft, incorporating techniques that have been used for hundreds of years.
“The designing, pleating and mounting the-leafs, are some of the main approaches of traditional and modern fan making. I appreciate the creative decisions that have to be made such as matching the style of sticks to the design of ‘the leaf’ in order to form balance, a theme and a well-structured match.”
Victoria now makes this process accessible to others, even sharing her skills on Channel 4 TV show Stef's Packed Lunch. She hopes that with her help, fan making and other endangered crafts will be able to make a comeback and continue to be used as a force for good.
“My ultimate wish is to see more traditional ‘high-fashion’ and ‘high-end’ hand-held folding fans being fully sold in the UK, by UK manufacturing companies with both male and females involved in the production processes to suit the tastes and financial pockets of diverse people."
"I hope through Fan The Glory With Tori, something along these lines can finally start again in the UK.”
Click here to find out more about Victoria's fan making classes and designs.