Assistant Archivist’s Desk #1: The Japanese Fan

Recently in our efforts to update documentation for the various items and artifacts on display within the Miller House, we uncovered the surprising and exciting history behind one of our more intriguing items. Stored in a glass case on the southern wall of the master bedroom is a painted Japanese paper fan. Intriguingly, it appears to be constructed from peacock feathers, or at least mock peacock feathers, a common style from the late Victorian era and into the turn of the century. The feathers themselves are wrapped in paper and painted with a scene of a man and a woman on a walk, possibly a date. Floral patterns fill the rest of the fan.

While the fan itself is a fascinating work of art, the story behind it is possibly even more interesting. In 2007, a woman named Ruth Phillips donated a large number of items to the society, and this fan was among them. As per her story, the fan was brought back to America as a souvenir by her Uncle. This souvenir, however, wasn’t the product of any mere vacation. Ruth’s Uncle was a part of the historic 1905 Taft mission to Japan, in which President Theodore Roosevelt sent then Secretary of War William Howard Taft on a peacekeeping mission to help facilitate a peaceful end to the Russo-Japanese war. Notably, on this trip was Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. 21 at the time, she frequently stirred excitement wherever she went, smoking openly in public, participating in parties, and attending cultural events. She played in familiarizing Japanese society with the Roosevelts, which was important, as while she was seeing the sites, Taft was busy behind the scenes. While on the surface the delegation was intended to broker peace between Japan and Russia, which it indeed did, there was a second, more secretive initiative as well: Secretary Taft and Prime Minister Katsura, behind closed doors, worked out a deal by which the United States would allow Japan’s dominance over Korea in exchange for recognition of US sovereignty in the Philippines. This agreement, which remained a secret for decades, would do much to shape the power dynamics of the region for decades to come.

What an interesting story to go alongside such an interesting item!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.