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!



Society of American Archivists’ 2014 Annual Meeting

Hawai'i and former Hawai'i archivists outside the Library of Congress: Dainan Skeem, Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Ashley Hartwell, Curator of the Armor Collection at the National Infantry Museum; me; Gina Vergara-Bautista, Archivist, Hawai'i State Archives.
Hawai’i and former Hawai’i archivists outside the Library of Congress: Dainan Skeem, Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Ashley Hartwell, Curator of the Armor Collection at the National Infantry Museum; me; Gina Vergara-Bautista, Archivist, Hawai’i State Archives.

Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to have attended the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in Washington, DC. The sessions were great, the weather was atypically pleasant, and it “just happened” to be restaurant week (thanks, SAA organizers!)—all in all, a memorable combination.

Before the conference even began, I attended an Electronic Records and Museum Archives Symposium hosted by SAA’s Museum Archives Sections’ Standards and Best Practices Working Group, of which I am a member. Like archivists in other types of institutions, museum archivists are receiving more and more born-digital material—often times on obsolete media (remember zip disks?) and/or in obsolete formats (Kodak photo CD files—ugh!). Much of this material documents important museum functions, and, as such, merits long-term preservation. But once we figure out how to read the files, how do we provide access to them and ensure that they are not altered?

At the symposium, archivists from a variety of museums shared what they were doing to manage their born-digital records. Strategies ranged from implementing commercial digital repository systems to using in-house expertise to customize open-source implementations to outsourcing to using a variety of free utilities to begin managing e-records. Like these other institutions, Shangri La is also dealing with the challenges of born-digital materials, so it was especially helpful to see the wide range of tools and strategies available to us.

During the conference itself, I attended sessions relating to web archiving, records management, and born digital records. I was especially interested in the web archiving sessions because Shangri La has recently expanded its social media presence, and we want to find ways of preserving and providing access to these records, which document our outreach efforts and what is essentially our “public face.”

Though SAA is a national organization, some sessions addressed issues that were international in scope. Members of the collective Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, for example, reported on their 2013 trip to meet with Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, and on their formation of a network of information professionals committed to speaking out against the destruction of Palestinian libraries, archives, and other cultural property.

All in all, I learned a ton and left feeling energized by the great work my colleagues are doing. (And the goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry sauce wasn’t too shabby either!)

Shangri La’s Stone Camels

Visitors to Shangri La love to pose with the two smiling stone camels (41.145.1-2) on either side of the front door. Even Doris Duke is known to have taken a photo or two with these camels. Here she is in 1939, posing with Sam Kahanamoku.

Doris Duke and Sam Kahanamoku at the entrance to Shangri La, 1938–39. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Doris Duke and Sam Kahanamoku at the entrance to Shangri La, 1938–39. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Originally from 18th-century China, the two camels were purchased right here in Honolulu, from high-end furniture retailer S. & G. Gump Company. The Gump’s store was located on Kalākaua Avenue, where the Louis Vuitton store is currently located, and the camels (or replicas of the camels—we’re not quite sure) were displayed on either side of their door, too. In March 1939, when construction on Shangri La was wrapping up, Doris Duke purchased the camels and installed them in her entry courtyard, where they’ve been ever since.

The S. & G. Gump Company Store on Kalākaua Avenue. Hawai‘i State Archives.
The S. & G. Gump Company Store on Kalākaua Avenue. Hawai‘i State Archives.

Fun fact: Also purchased from Gump’s were the two stone horses at the entrance to the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Sustainability at Shangri La

The recent devastation on the East Coast reminds us that our planet is a precious and fragile resource that must be cared for. Under the direction of Lead Groundsworker Steve Ebisuya, we have been implementing a number of sustainable practices at Shangri La in order to reduce our impact on the environment.

Shangri La's compost pile. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

For starters, we have been composting small leaves and lawn clippings. Groundsworkers water the pile regularly and use an organic fertilizer to help break down the leaves. After 2 ½ to 3 months, fresh compost, rich in humus and micronutrients, is ready to be used to help new and newly transplanted plants get established. The compost, along with store-bought manures, helps to regulate the pH of our soil, and helps plants to absorb nutrients more effectively. Plant and tree clippings that are too big to compost (on average, we generate about a ton every one to two weeks) get trucked to Hawaiian Earth Products, where they’re turned into mulch.

Water from the Mughal Garden channel is used to water the grass and fill the ponds. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Water in the Mughal Garden water channel and waterfall (about 6,700 and 2,000 gallons, respectively) gets recycled each time those features are drained for cleaning. Steve and the grounds and maintenance crew have been using a gas pump to remove the water, which is then used to water the lawn and fill up the Playhouse pond and lily pond. Watering only on alternate days is another way we’re trying to conserve water.

Projects in the works include growing our own red ginger for the living room floral displays and installing automatic sprinkler systems in select areas. We’re really proud of our dedicated crew—Shangri La looks beautiful because of their efforts.

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Logbook

If anyone were curious about what the thermostatic mixing valve in the Playhouse is made of, who the Mughal Garden fountain spigots were purchased from, or what kind of wood Moroccan artisans used for the living room and foyer ceilings, chances are, we’ve got the answers (white metal-plated copper alloy, Novelty Foundry, and painted cedar, respectively). The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is extremely fortunate to have such detailed information about the house and its collections—and we have the Shangri La managers and recordkeepers, from 1936 onward, to thank.

As an archivist, I’m very interested in recordkeeping. In fact, it’s my job to ensure that researchers can not only find information contained in records, but that they can also understand how and why those records were originally created and maintained.

Logbook, 1939–1944. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite thing at Shangri La is an item from the archives. It’s a logbook kept from 1939 to 1944, and it records items received by and sent from Shangri La. The arrival of important collections items—the Syrian mother-of-pearl chests Doris Duke (1912–93) purchased from Asfar & Sarkis (65.46), the Persian tomb cover purchased from Hagop Kevorkian in 1940 (48.348), and the Spanish luster plates purchased from the William Randolph Hearst sales (e.g., 48.114)—are recorded here, along with the arrival of more utilitarian items like books, shoes, and three rubber raincoats for use on Doris Duke’s yacht. The departure of important objects, like the Guanyin statue shipped from Shangri La to Duke Farms in January 1941 to make room for the newly acquired Veramin mihrab (48.327), is recorded here as well.

Logbooks like this one (records such as these were kept intermittently through the 1980s) help us to understand an object’s provenance and acquisition. Historical photographs, dealer invoices and correspondence, and shipping and insurance receipts all offer partial information about how and when objects were purchased. The logbooks, because they confirm the receipt of objects and usually indicate the date and dealer or country of origin, are very important pieces of this puzzle.

The logbook records the receipt of three mother-of-pearl chests from Syria on June 22, 1940. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

What’s more, this particular logbook functions as a chronicle of the collection during a very important period of its development—the period following Doris Duke’s 1938 trip to the Middle East. Just about every two weeks, shipments of objects, textiles and furniture from dealers and galleries were received at Shangri La. Collections objects were almost as often leaving Shangri La, to be shipped to one of Doris Duke’s other properties, or to be sent out for repair, fumigation or other conservation treatment.

Since records of Doris Duke articulating her collecting objectives and vision are relatively scarce, we rely on evidence like this to figure out what she may have been thinking. For example, we can trace in archival and curatorial records how Duke’s needs and tastes as a collector changed over time—how she began by collecting practical objects that could be used at Shangri La, then became more discerning, developing concerted interests in Ilkhanid Persian tilework, Qajar Persian art, and late Ottoman Syrian interiors and furnishings, among other subjects.

Keeping good records is also a part of our responsibility as stewards of these objects—indeed, documenting collections is part of the American Association of Museums’ code of ethics. In short, the more information we can gather about the DDFIA collection, the better we can understand and care for them!

 NOTE: This logbook will likely be displayed in the next exhibit case installation in Shangri La’s Damascus Room, the one area onsite where visitors can view such important archival items.

Installing the Damascus Room

The turmoil in Syria has been much in the news lately. With the opening of our Damascus Room, we hope to make visitors aware of this nation’s rich cultural heritage by letting them experience the world of 18th- and 19th-century Damascus.

View of the newly opened Damascus Room from the southeast corner. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2012.)

During the later years of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923), when this room’s paneling was originally created, Damascus was a bustling and cosmopolitan trading center. Well-to-do residents entertained their guests in reception rooms generally known by the Arabic word qa‘a (hall) that featured elaborate ‘ajami woodwork (in which a raised surface of animal glue and gypsum was painted and then further embellished with metal leaf and/or mirrors) and luxury trade items such as textiles, glassware, ceramics and metalwork.

Georges Asfar in the retrofitted Damascus Room prior to its shipment to Honolulu. (Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.)

Shangri La’s Damascene interior was acquired from the Damascus- and Beirut-based firm Asfar & Sarkis (with whom Duke had been working since the 1930s) in 1953. The interior was then retrofitted by the al-Khayyat workshop of Damascus so that it would fit in the former “Spanish Room” at Shangri La. Doris Duke began installing the room in 1955, and it continued to serve as a guest room for nearly 40 years.

Over time, the temperature and ocean breezes, which make Shangri La such a pleasant place to visit, take their toll on buildings and objects. Thanks to the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC), the Damascus Room has undergone extensive conservation work, which identified and addressed areas of loss and damage. Now that treatment of the room is complete, we’ve decided to make it a part of our regular public tours. In fact, we’re proud to be one of only a handful of institutions that exhibit—and allow visitors to walk into—Syrian interiors of this type.

Conservator Kent Severson installs a pane of protective glass in the objects vitrine. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

In planning and installing this exhibit, one of the biggest challenges we faced was working with the historic vitrines. How were we going to install shelving without drilling holes through the original wood? And how were we going to protect the delicate objects on display in the east vitrine? Luckily our team came up with some innovative solutions: We used velvet-covered boards to support both ends of the glass shelves, and we slid multiple panels of glass (rather than a single large panel) into the object vitrine.

Curator Keelan Overton and I arrange original documents and photographs inside the archival exhibit case. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Improvisation was indeed the name of the game. Conservator Kent Severson and consulting textile conservator Ann Svenson devised a method of hanging textiles inside the vitrines. They also suspended our photos and interpretive labels from the glass shelves using dabs of silicone and monofilament thread (dental floss was even considered, albeit briefly).

We all did our best to work with the room’s changing light, and its variable temperature and airflow. We hope that the resulting exhibit, which features archival displays (facsimiles and originals), as well as a range of textiles and objects that reflect both Doris Duke’s collecting interests and the domestic practices of late-Ottoman Damascus, will give you a taste of this elegant and fascinating world.

Historic Preservation Awareness Day 2012

Exhibitors on the third floor of the capitol.

Collections Technician Rowan Gard, Museum Studies Intern Bethany Bannister-Andrews, and I were pleased to represent Shangri La at the 10th annual Historic Preservation Awareness Day last Friday. The event was held at the Hawai‘i State Capitol and featured exhibitors from over 50 local cultural organizations. We brought plenty of brochures and social media flyers, as well as our video and slideshow, and we were fortified with tea and oatcakes—definitely a formula for success.

Preservation Day provided us with a great opportunity to share information about Shangri La and to speak with legislators and Shangri La visitors (both past and future) one-on-one. For instance, many people had questions about Kama‘āina Wednesday (the first Wednesday of every month), when Shangri La offers free tours to Hawai‘i residents. Because these tours are so popular, we draw names on the first Monday of the month prior to each scheduled kama‘āina tour. For more information about Kama‘āina Wednesday or to download an entry form, please click here: http://www.honoluluacademy.org/4915-kamaaina_shangri_la

Rowan and Bethany speaking with a visitor and a journalist.

Other Preservation Day attendees wanted to know “what’s new” at Shangri La. In addition to tours, we have a busy schedule of performances, film screenings, and lectures. Stay connected by signing up for our email newsletter.

Many thanks to the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation for organizing this event, and to the wonderful organizations we were seated next to: the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i, and the Mō‘ili‘ili Community Center.

Do you have a question about Shangri La? Leave us a comment!


Association of Hawai‘i Archivists Annual Conference

The reading room at the Kaua'i Historical Society.

I spent Presidents’ Day weekend working. Luckily, I was “working” on the lovely island of Kaua‘i, attending (and helping to coordinate) the annual conference of the Association of Hawai‘i Archivists, which is a statewide network of archivists, librarians, and other information professionals. The conference is a great way for all of us to share what we’ve been doing over the past year. This year, our group was over 40 strong, including 10 members of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Society of American Archivists Student Chapter.

We started our Saturday at the Grove Farm Museum, where we got to check out Curator Moises Madayang’s large-format reproduction setup, which is primarily used for digitizing maps and architectural drawings. Using a series of mirrors and a process called cross-polarization, Moises can create images that are perfectly straight and glare-free.

The only complete set of Garden Island newspapers is stored at the Kaua'i Historical Society.


After lunch we toured the Kaua‘i Historical Society’s archives and library, which are currently housed in the historic county building. Because the building is historic, archives staff aren’t allowed to take the “Mayor’s Office” sign off their door, which occasionally results in visits from some pretty confused patrons!

On Sunday morning, we headed out to the National Tropical Botanical Garden on the south shore, where we got a guided tour of the library and herbarium. Most impressive was the glass-enclosed rare book room, modeled after the one at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Me, giving a 5-minute Pecha Kucha presentation on Shangri La.

After lunch on Sunday, we tried something new: a Pecha Kucha lightning-round session where we got to hear updates about AHA’s activities, the Army Cultural Resources Program, the photo digitization initiative at the Kamehameha Schools Archives, ‘Ulu‘ulu: The Henry Ku‘ualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawai‘i, and the Pacific Island Network of the National Park Service. I discussed Shangri La’s social media efforts and passed out our new social media flyer. (If you’re in the Honolulu area, please be on the lookout for it!)

Finally, the group split up to take self-guided walking tours of the garden “rooms” and the home of Robert and John Gregg Allerton, the garden’s creators.

Lotus plants at sunset in the Allertons' garden.

It sometimes feels isolating to be in the middle of the ocean, so the conference was a nice reminder that the local archival community is supportive and strong. It was great to see the diversity of repositories, and to welcome so many students into the profession. (And it didn’t hurt that dinner was served at sunset, 50 feet from the beach!)


Many thanks to our gracious hosts!

75th Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists

As Shangri La’s contract archivist, I flew to Chicago for the Society of American Archivists’ 75th annual meeting. It was a week of nonstop panels, meetings, networking, and workshops—with just enough time left over for hotdogs and cheesecake on a stick!

One thing we’ve been working on here at Shangri La is conceptualizing our institutional archives—an urgent need, especially considering all the documentation we generate every day about events, exhibitions, capital projects, conservation, and scholars and artists in residence. To that end, I gathered as much information as I could about preserving and providing access to “born-digital” materials such as email messages, PDFs, and digital video and image files. I was fortunate to attend April Norris’s one-day workshop, “Preserving Digital Archives: Concepts and Competencies,” which introduced participants to the model of an Open Archival Information System, and to some of the technical, policy, and theoretical issues related to digital archives.

As Shangri La enters the world of social media via our blog, facebook, and vimeo sites, we also need to consider how to capture, preserve, and provide access to this content—not just the content generated by us, but also the content generated by you, our users. Luckily, there were a number of sessions on rights analysis and social media archiving that offered advice on that very topic. Of course, trends, technology, and user agreements change constantly and quickly. This is both maddening and exciting, and it requires archivists to become that much more nimble.

Finally, I was excited to attend the meetings of the Museum Archives Section and Working Group. It was such a great opportunity to talk shop (and eavesdrop on others talking shop!) about issues specific to museum archives, such as accession files and curatorial files.

It was great to spend a week with colleagues, and I returned from Chicago feeling invigorated. We have a lot of work ahead of us here in the Shangri La/DDFIA archives, and I’m excited to be a part of it!