Learning the Art of Conservation

By definition, the name Shangri La evokes an enchanted and remote utopia. One visit to Doris Duke’s home takes you on a journey of the senses where you are transported around the world through an exquisite assemblage of art and artifacts. The architectural design alone against the backdrop of the natural beauty of Hawaii is breathtaking and awe-inspiring! Within these walls, a vast collection of precious items awaits its day to bask in the glow of a conservator’s lamp. This is where I come in as a graduate, pre-program intern interested in art conservation. Under the guidance of Conservator, Kent Severson, I was introduced to a small bowl that had seen better days.

48.318 Before Treatment

The previously restored bowl had fallen apart in storage. Large fragments, including sections of the rim, had detached and yellow resin covered half the surface. In this condition it could not be viewed by the public. The first thing to determine was exactly what had been holding it together and what was used during its previous restoration. The resin, the adhesive and the fill material had to be tested for solubility. Through these tests, the bowl in essence spoke to what it had been through in recent history, giving vital information. Once I determined the materials and techniques used, I was able to formulate a plan to treat it.

An assessment of the previously repaired joints’ stability was made to decide if any of the bowl needed to be disassembled and reassembled for aesthetic purposes. I photographed the item for documentation purposes and the fun began! I had to carefully remove the resin, the previous restoration paint, the adhesives and the fill. This series of steps revealed the substrate I had to work with. I consolidated the edges of the fragments using a stable acrylic-based adhesive. Then the reassembly began, piece by piece, using a stable acrylic-based adhesive. Small losses were filled with an acrylic-based fill material.

48.318 During Treatment

This is the point where you start to see the piece come to life again—it is a magical moment when the pieces reunite. Finally, acrylic emulsion paints are applied to both the interior and exterior to achieve a harmonious transition between surfaces.

48.318 After Treatment
48.318 After Treatment
48.318 After Treatment

During the process it was easy to forget just far along the bowl had come. Kent would remind me to take a look at the before pictures! I have to say, the time spent with the bowl became a labor of love; it will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am truly grateful to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art for the opportunity and the introduction to the art of conservation through this amazing piece from the collection.

About the guest author:

Elizabeth Asal

Elizabeth Asal received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Hawaii Mānoa in 2015. Prior to her studies she worked at Gallery Iolani in Kaneohe, Hawaii. She is a ceramicist and comes from a family of artists.

Opening October with Offendum

Omar Offendum is a Syrian American hip-hop artist, designer, poet and peace activist.  He is currently an artist in residence at Shangri La, a museum for learning about the global culture of Islamic art and design through exhibitions, guided tours, public programs and digital initiatives. Offendum will be at Shangri La from October 3-24, 2016.

Photo credit Ridwan Adhami.
Photo credit Ridwan Adhami.

Here’s where to find him:


Offendum will be the feature artist at Hawaii’s nationally recognized poetry slam, HawaiiSlam. Tickets will be sold at the door: $3 before and $5 after 8:30PM.

HawaiiSlam’s First Thursday
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Doors: 7:30PM | Show: 8:30PM | Feature slot: 9:45PM
Hawaiian Brian’s (Crossroads Concert Hall)
1608 Kapiolani Boulevard, Honolulu, HI 96814


From the jasmine tree-lined courtyards of Nizar Qabbani’s Damascene homes to the flooded riverbanks of Langston Hughes’ Harlem Renaissance poems, this unique artist salon is equal parts presentation and conversation. With a decade-long artistic journey that has both paralleled the rise of social media and borne witness to major sociopolitical shifts in Syria, Offendum discusses how he has been able to develop a special blend of hip-hop and Arabic poetry to bridge cultural divides.

This event is free and open to the public. Directions & parking.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
East-West Center (Burns Hall, Room 2012)
1601 East-West Road, Honolulu, HI 96848

The salon is part of the University of Hawaii’s International Cultural Studies Graduate Certificate Program Speaker Series.


Offendum will conclude his residency at Shangri La with a live performance of his new cross-cultural work, Salaam Aloha. The event will include an open house of the museum and a dinner reception. Tickets for the event cost $45 and instructions to purchase tickets will be sent to subscribers of the Shangri La listserv. Sign up here. Please note there is no parking onsite or in the surrounding neighborhood. Access to Shangri La is by van only. Van service, making multiple rides to Shangri La, begins from Kapiolani Community College parking lot A. Details to follow upon purchase of ticket.

“Salaam Aloha”
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Shangri La: A Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design
4055 Papu Circle, Honolulu, HI 96816
Photo credit Ridwan Adhami,
Photo credit Ridwan Adhami.

September at Shangri La

Every September, when students head back to school and the trade winds seem to disappear, we catch our breath. We close to the public so that we can work on projects – to maintain the collection, the grounds, and the building itself – that would otherwise disrupt tours.

This year, we will be closed from Sunday, August 28, through Tuesday, October 4. Tours will resume on Wednesday, October 5. You can continue to book tours from October onward through the Honolulu Museum of Art.

We may be closed, but we are definitely not inaccessible. Find us online at www.shangrilahawaii.org: take a virtual tour, learn about what we do, and explore over 500 works from our collection. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—and now Snapchat (@hi_shangrila), where we’ll be posting lots of updates about behind-the-scenes maintenance activities.

When we reopen in October, look forward to a spruced-up tour route, featuring a relandscaped private garden, repainted dining room lanai columns, and repainted Mughal Garden channel, fountain, and falls. We’ve also have some online exhibits in the works through Google Cultural Institute, as well as a residency by Syrian-American hip-hop artist Omar Offendum.

We are not the only ones hard at work this month. We’ve been working with our friends at HoMA to reconceptualize and reinstall the gallery of Islamic art, which will open a day after we do on October 6. The newly installed gallery will feature 77 works from Shangri La, and will include a space for rotating exhibits of contemporary art. Up first are former Shangri La artists-in-residence Ayad Alkadhi, Walid Raad, and Mohamed Zakaria, and Lebanese artist Reem Bassous.

Thanks for your patience, keep in touch, and we look forward to seeing you again in October!

Shangri La, Islam, and the Ocean: An Interconnected World

The Playhouse at Shangri La. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
The Playhouse at Shangri La. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

As I sit, with coffee in hand, enjoying the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean from Shangri La, I recognize that Doris Duke’s choice of venue for a house filled with Islamic art was singularly appropriate.  After all, Arabs and Persians were the great seafarers of the eighth to fifteenth centuries. Their merchants traveled to Mogadishu in modern Somalia on the east coast of Africa to Calicut in India to the port of Quanzhou on China’s southeast coast. They linked Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  Ships laden with cargoes of gold, spices, medicines, and numerous other products traversed the Indian Ocean and then on to the South China Sea.

The influence of these traders went beyond the simple exchange of goods. They introduced Islam to many regions in Asia and simultaneously exposed the Arab and Persian worlds to Chinese decorative objects. The 1998 discovery of the Belitung shipwreck, off the coast of Indonesia, of a ninth-century Arab dhow attests to the scale of the trade and to the splendid works of art that played a role in such commerce. Excavators found sixty thousand unique and high-quality Chinese ceramics and gold objects, many of which are now housed in a museum in Singapore. The Chinese ceramics that actually reached the Arab and Persian worlds would naturally have a significant influence on Islamic art.

The beauty of Shangri La and its idyllic location prompt many such reflections about art as well as about “globalization,” much before that term gained currency in the twentieth century. A spectacular museum of Islamic art in Hawai’i offers a perfect symbol of globalization.

2014.6_20140614_015About the Guest Author:

Morris Rossabi is Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York and Columbia University, and has taught and conducted research on Chinese, Inner Asian and Islamic culture. Author and editor of more than twenty books, including Khubilai Khan and A History of China, he has participated in exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He served as Chair of the Arts and Culture Board of the Soros Foundation also been granted fellowships and residencies from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, the Smith Richardson Foundation among other organizations. In 2015-2016 he lectured at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Rijksmuseum, Salzburg University and the University of Colorado.  He has been an advisor at Shangri La periodically since 2002 and has presented lectures here in 2012 and 2014.



A Closer Look: Trees in the Central Courtyard

An Indian laburnum tree, also known as a yellow shower tree, grows in the central courtyard at Shangri La. It is a robust whimsical tree that harmonizes with the largely Persian aesthetic of the space. Its branches twist together in a delicate embrace and its canopy has filled the courtyard’s open roof, following the lines of the house. When a wind rustles through, spots of light flicker above as leaves and petals float gently down to the base of the tree. And, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the tree is not one, but two — two trees melded almost seamlessly together.

These images are for use by Lindemann Construction only for Portfolio, web site, and award submission purposes. Third party and additional rights are restricted without permission. All images are (C)2005, David Franzen [#Beginning of Shooting Data Section] Nikon D2X Focal Length: 16mm Optimize Image: Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB) Noise Reduction: OFF 2006/01/13 14:50:15.0 Exposure Mode: Manual White Balance: Direct sunlight Tone Comp: Less Contrast RAW (12-bit) Lossless Metering Mode: Multi-Pattern AF Mode: AF-S Hue Adjustment: 0° Image Size: 2868 x 4320 1/15 sec - F/11 Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached Saturation: Normal Exposure Comp.: 0 EV Sharpening: Normal Lens: 12-24mm F/4 G Sensitivity: ISO 200 Image Comment: [#End of Shooting Data Section]
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2006.)
Planted between the 1940s and 1970s, the two trees mirror two other — less visible — trees in the courtyard. Looking closely at the row of seventeenth-century Persian tile panels on the eastern wall, you will notice several intertwined turquoise and brown trees, such as the ones seen on the panel (48.98.1) below:

Tree tile
Tile panel (48.98.1). Iran (Isfahan), 17th century. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i. (Photo: Paige Donnelly, 2016.)

The motif of intertwined trees may bring to mind the mystical dimension of Islam. In Sufi poetry, the bond between the Lover and the Beloved is used as a metaphor for the bond between the faithful and God. Likewise, in art, symbols such as intertwined trees can serve as visual expressions of devotion to divine love.

Even from first glace, the synergy of trees in the central courtyard — in art and in nature —  has a powerful effect. This mirroring of 400-year-old tiles with two living Indian laburnum trees is rooted in the unconventional and beautiful symmetry of the house as a whole.

Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)

Each morning, as I make my way through the central courtyard, my eyes always linger on the branches spiraling up before me. I see not two trees, but one.

Harmony and Balance

What does a butterfly have in common with a plumeria flower? What does a pineapple field have in common with the parking lot at Ala Moana Center?

They all exhibit a quality called symmetry. And regardless of whether symmetry is naturally occurring or man-made, there’s no doubt that it appeals to both our eyes and our emotions.

“Symmetry and Islamic Art,” on view in the lobby of the Hawai‘i State Library from January 11 through March 16, explores symmetry as it relates to works of art in the DDFIA collection. Visitors are challenged to test out reflection symmetry by using a mirror, to create symmetrical shapes using pattern blocks, and to tessellate replicas of Shangri La’s star and cross tiles.


The exhibit also encourages visitors to identify and photograph examples of symmetry right here in Honolulu. Tweet your photos of symmetry, and tag @Shangrilahi and @HSPLSHIgov. We’ll re-tweet our favorites. First 10 respondents win a set of Shangri La notecards.

On Saturday, March 12, from 12:00-1:30 pm, scholar Carol Bier and ‘Iolani School math instructor David Masunaga will present a workshop on symmetry and Islamic art at the state library. Details:

Workshop: Symmetry in Islamic Art
Saturday, March 12, 2016, 12-1:30 pm
Hawai‘i State Library, 1st floor reading room
Ages 5 and up, 24 participants maximum
Instructors: Carol Bier and David Masunaga

Through hands-on activities in origami, cutting, and coloring, participants of all ages will enjoy creating designs and patterns. In these patterns we will find symmetry and geometry also present in works of Islamic art that can be seen at Shangri La, Doris Duke’s home in Honolulu, which is now a museum of Islamic art. Workshop leaders Carol Bier and David Masunaga are world-renowned for their study of geometric patterns; they will guide us through connections that tell us about intriguing and far-reaching geometric principles which lead us to an understanding of Islamic art.

Questions? Call the Hawai‘i State Library at 586-3500. Contact the library 10 days in advance to request a sign language interpreter or if special accommodation is needed.

About the instructors:

Carol Bier is an historian of Islamic art who specializes in the study of geometric patterns in art and architecture. Her award-winning website, Symmetry and Pattern: The Art of Oriental Carpets, is hosted by The Math Forum, an extensive on-line resource for mathematics education under the auspices of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Formerly curator at The Textile Museum in Washington, DC (1984-2001), she is currently a visiting scholar with the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and research associate at The Textile Museum. She serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (London).

David Masunaga’s interests have always been diverse, and he feels especially blessed to be able to pursue four things which bring him much joy: mathematics teaching at the precollege level, teaching adult professional educators in new classroom techniques and technologies, pursuing his mathematical research in modeling convex polytopes, and lecturing at hundreds of professional meetings, institutes, and universities.  David has numerous national awards for his work in mathematics and mathematics education, is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, and is past director of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. He fills his precious free time playing the oboe and other double reed instruments professionally and has played in Carnegie Hall twice, once soloing on the English horn. He and Carol Bier presented the first public lecture on Doris Duke’s Shangri La estate, which is now a museum of Islamic art.

Special thanks to the Hawai‘i State Library for hosting, and to our library colleagues Tisha Aragaki and Kristin Laitila!



“How is it up there in the heavens?”

A docent cranes her neck to ask me, and I reply, “Hot and sweaty.” For the past four weeks I have been working up on scaffolding in the foyer of Shangri La. This is the first room that guests see, and it can be an overwhelming surprise of spaces and patterns. I am not sure how long it takes visitors to look up, but above, there is a whole other beauty: a carved, painted, and gilded wooden ceiling.


Continue reading “How is it up there in the heavens?”

A Legacy of Restoration: Schuenemann’s Gate

As the end of my eight-week summer internship is rapidly approaching, I find myself surprised and pleased about the journey an 18th -century mosaic from Isfahan, Iran, has taken me. As a coming third-year graduate scholar at the UCLA/Getty conservation program studying conservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials, I have spent nearly two months researching, documenting, analyzing, and ultimately treating the “Schuenemann’s gate,” a mosaic tile panel located on the dining room lanai at Shangri La, Doris Duke’s historic home.

Colette Khanaferov removing old retouching on 18th-century tile work with organic solvents. (Photo: Gilbert Martinez, 2015.)
Colette Khanaferov removing old retouching on 18th-century tile work with organic solvents.                                    (Photo: Gilbert Martinez, 2015.)

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A Few of Our Favorite Things: A Conversation on Khatamkari

The following is a guest post by Shangri La guides Susan Berg and Miki Yamashiro.

Susan Berg: Hey Miki, Shangri La guides were asked to do a blog on one of their favorite pieces at Shangri La. Want to try?

Miki Yamashiro: Sue Berg, what are you getting me into now? But sure, there are so many things I love about Shangri La—how do we pick just one?

Sue: What in the collection really draws your attention?

The living room at Shangri La, with khatamkari doors. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
The living room at Shangri La, with khatamkari doors. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

Continue reading A Few of Our Favorite Things: A Conversation on Khatamkari

Palmyra, May 20, 2015

Once a time for camel racing, now a time for holding our breath.

In the spring of 1938, with the design of Shangri La underway, Doris Duke and her husband, James Cromwell, visited Palmyra as they traveled throughout the Middle East—also stopping in Egypt and Iran.

Palmyra, 1938. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)
Palmyra, 1938. (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.)

Arrangements for this trip were made by Arthur Upham Pope, an American dealer, collector and scholar of Persian art. In each place the Cromwells studied, they filmed and photographed historical architectural details and provided images to the architects that would inform Shangri La’s final design.

Continue reading Palmyra, May 20, 2015