A lady and her fans




The Cuban from yesterday lived between big fan blows. The best, and therefore most expensive, were those that, when opened or closed, let out a click that was almost a detonation. And with what surprising dexterity they wielded it to deliver a message. Because there is a language of fans in which our predecessors were well versed. A well wielded fan is capable of transmitting a minimum of thirty-six messages. It enabled communicationff between lovers at a time when meeting alone between two who liked each other was almost unthinkable. The fan was then a secret weapon. Thus, if a lady passed her index finger over the ribs of her fan, she indicated to her lover that she needed to tell him something, and if she brushed her hair off her forehead with the patterns, the message was almost a plea, since she asked him not to forgot. Things got ugly for the lover if the lady fanned herself with her left hand since she was jealous and, if she did it very slowly, the message was equivalent to indifference. 

Hard to beat collection

The poet Dulce María Loynaz came to own one of the most complete fan collections in the world, the second most important after that of the Dukes of Alba, in Spain, and very difficult to surpass due to the rich variety of styles, shapes, typologies , materials, times and countries that make it up. More than 250 of these fans, delightfully photographed and explained with precision and rigor, are displayed on the pages of a book that invites admiration and enjoyment. It is entitled A lady and her fans, and its author, María Rosa Oyarzábal , thus intended to initiate a path to the study of pieces that make up small collections that the great Cuban writer, Cervantes Prize winner in 1992, treasured throughout her life, and to show a little-known facet of the author of Últimos días de una casa, the one of collecting. 

Because, in addition to fans, Dulce María collected other small treasures, such as hundreds of dolls from different countries, with typical costumes, made of wood, wax, papier maché, porcelain, or simply cloth; and a beautiful collection of cups, made up of some 75 pieces from various manufactures and countries, including such important sources as Limoges, Sarreguemines , Talavera de la Reina, Royal Doulton , Dresden and Vienna, just to mention a few. He kept in his collection a cup that was part of the Maine battleship tableware and that divers extracted from the water when they rescued the wreckage of the wrecked ship. There were three cups and the North American president gave two of them to Major General Mario García Menocal, then President of the Republic of Cuba, and he, as a token of friendship, gave one to General Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, father of the poetess . 

The poetess herself confessed in 1958 that the fan collection was started by her mother, María Mercedes Muñoz Sañudo, a woman of exquisite sensitivity and culture, and other women in the family, and they encouraged her to continue it since she was almost a child. At the dawn of the 20th century, her father, General Loynaz , bought for María Mercedes, as a wedding present, the collection, or at least part of it, of fans of the wife of the IV Count of San Esteban de Cañongo , which Ruined and deprived of his noble title, he was forced to sell jewelry and other valuable family belongings. Already in the 1950s, says María Rosa Oyarzábal , the collection was enriched by a meticulous search in different countries, and was enlarged with the pieces that were added to the death of her sister Flor. 

Something so mine and so loved 

How many pieces made up that collection? The poet made two inventories of her. One, written in pencil, states 133 fans. Another, by machine, with a count of 180 fans. About 200, he asserted in 1958 and, more here he spoke of 400, which Oyarzábal questions. He says: "... reality makes us consider that the figure would not exceed 350." Accurate: 

We do not know if he was able to complete the inventory; Only a part of it reached us, and we felt immensely happy to receive details about fabrics, varieties of lace, mother-of-pearl and feathers in his handwriting, among the profusion of materials used in the making of the pieces. 

In addition to consigning dates, origins, characteristics of the supports and even style, among other valuable information that define Dulce María, says Oyarzábal , "as an expert". 

On January 29, 1958, Dulce María exhibited at the Palacio de Bellas Artes «something so mine and so loved by me, like my collection of fans». The Diario de la Marina, in its edition of the 30th, gives an account of the event in the columns of its social chronicle. There is hardly any talk about the exhibition, but the audience is reviewed: Duchess of Amblada, Countess of Jibacoa , Marquesa de Villalta, Marquesa de Jústiz de Santa Ana... Also Bertha Ziegenbirt , wife of Santiago Rey, Minister of the Interior of President Batista ; Marcela Cleard , widow of Barnet , former First Lady of the Republic, Teté Bances, widow of José Martí (son)... In the photo that accompanies the text you can see Dulce María and other attendees wrapped in fur coats, secretly yearning perhaps for the coolness of the fans. 

The poetess then said: 

The fan is not an accessory, but a perfect whole, a miniature work of art, and should be respected as such. She was born, it can be said, with man, and to reach that degree of refinement and grace, to complete the evolution that going from its origin to its perfection represents, from the leaf of the tree that a savage tore off to make it fresh, up to that Delicate lacework , even that display of mother-of-pearls that look like pieces of rainbows, necessarily had to overcome its destiny and this destiny can no longer be to shake the air or scare away flies. 

Folding fans, wide-ranging pericones, skeleton, empire style, with lens, deck, art deco pericon, rear-view mirror, Christian, mourning, bridal, imperceptible, Elizabethan, cabriolet, chinery, balloon, à la Fontange , art nouveau , whimsical, girlish, modernist, cocarda , etc. There is everything in the collection of Dulce María Loynaz , and significant in it are those of those personalities who held noble titles, such as the Marquise of Pinar del Río. The piece that belonged to Queen Mercedes of Spain, who died just six months after marrying Alfonso XII, is very special. It is very beautiful that King Juan Carlos, great-grandson of that Alfonso, gave the writer in Madrid on the occasion of deserving the Cervantes Prize. One of the fans in the collection is dedicated to Dulce María by the Mexican singer —and later a priest— José Mujica. 

The —insurmountable— photos that appear in the book are by the lens artist Julio A. Larramendi, author as well as an account of the fan in Cuba, also included in the volume. 

Miguel Barnet , in the prologue, qualifies the poetess as a woman with an ambivalent personality: "She could be very tender and at the same time very dry and frugal with those who did not establish fluid communication." He says that he had the privilege of dealing with her a lot, but «in our conversations the subject of fans never came up (...) In one of those meetings at the Academy I told him: “Sweetie, you are an enigma woman, a woman with a whip in one hand and a rose in the other. She liked that definition because she saw herself in her own mirror. 

The poet of In the elusive smoke of the gone wonders:

How could such a strong woman care so delicately for her collection of fans? For me it is a mystery. It would be because within its immovable structure lived a being of incomparable finesse and good taste that characterized it even in the discreet silence that it exhibited for years as a sign of great dignity and personal pride. 

The purest and most transparent Spanish on the Island, the most suggestive and sensual language of Cuban poetry were hers, and for this reason time honored her with the Cervantes Prize for Literature in 1992. But she is also the owner of the cups of porcelain, rag dolls and biscuit . The one who dressed her personal history with thread borders, the one who was faithful to her class tradition and her artistic ancestry, the owner of the most complete collection of fans on the continent. The one who wrote: "I am the traveler who passes between the hugs of others and smiles that are not for him." The one who settled on earth before to sentence: "I arrived first", and leave the treasure of a full life to future generations. 


Most of Dulce María Loynaz 's fans are deposited in the National Museum of Decorative Arts. Also in the cultural center that bears the name of the writer, the Museum of Decorative Arts of Santa Clara and in the Museum of Art of Matanzas. 

María Rosa Oyarzábal reports that, in 1985, the poetess sold different objects to the Museum of Decorative Arts of Santa Clara, among them five fans and a fan, and that there is information that in the Quinta Simoni Museum, in Camagüey, there are thirteen pieces donated for her. That leads one to think, Oyarzábal writes , that she could have sold or donated another fan or given it as a token of her affection to certain friends. 

There were two large exhibitions of said pieces; the one already noted in 1958, and the one that took place at the Museum of Decorative Arts from February 14, 2017 until January 18 of the following year. In the ceremony corresponding to the delivery of the Cervantes Prize, fifteen fans were exhibited in Madrid, among other objects belonging to the author —letters, photos, books…— “which reaffirmed the high value of her collection”. 

Among the great Cuban collectors it is worth mentioning María Josefa Ruiz de Carvajal, Marquise of Pinar del Río, who made a large donation to the National Museum of Havana, the so-called Carvajal Legacy. María Luisa Gómez Mena, Countess of Revilla de Camargo, who treasured the pieces with which the Museum of Decorative Arts was inaugurated in 1964. Joaquín Gumá Herrera, Count of Lagunillas, who contributed to the national heritage a collection of pieces belonging to the Greco-Roman world, one of the most complete internationally. Julio Lobo, who upon leaving Cuba deposited the pieces that are exhibited in the Napoleonic Museum. Other notable collectors included Oscar Cintas, Teté Bances, and Francisco Prat Puig. 

María Rosa Oyarzábal has worked on inventories related to Jaime Valls, Amelia Peláez, Alejo Carpentier and Dulce María Loynaz . Also in the Capitol and in the wrecks Palamón and Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. Her exquisite sensitivity led her to undertake a book like A Lady and Her Fans that shows, according to Miguel Barnet , "the secret vocation of a woman who loved beauty from the most intimate and personal aspect of a fan or a cup of tea, to the most epic of the history written in the fields of Cuba». 


Cyrus Bianchi Ross