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!

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!



Seeing the Light in Dallas

Need another reason to go to Dallas, besides the Texas barbeque and jalapeño cornbread?  The exhibition Nur: Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World is on view at the Dallas Museum of Art after its debut at the Focus-Abengoa Foundation in Seville, Spain.

As Shangri La’s Collections Manager, I recently couriered three objects to Dallas for inclusion in the exhibition, which opened on March 30 and runs through June 29. “Nur” is the Arabic word for light, and the exhibition, which explores its multiple meanings, is organized into two major sections: one focusing on artistic techniques that enhance the effect of light, and the second focusing on scientific fields related to light or enlightenment. In addition to manuscripts, ceramics, and inlaid metalwork, among other objects, there are scientific instruments, including sundials, astrolabes, and anatomical instruments, which clearly illustrate the Islamic world’s hand in the European Renaissance.

Spanning more than ten centuries, the exhibition features 150 rarely seen objects from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. DDFIA’s loan consists of the following trio:

Incense Burner
Incense Burner
Northern India, probably late nineteenth century
Jade; gold, silver, gemstones
Overall: 4 x 4 9/16 in. (10.2 x 11.5cm), 41.15a-c
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2010.)


Iran, Safavid, sixteenth or seventeenth century, no later than 1656
Copper alloy; cast, engraved, inlaid with black composition, traces of gilding
Overall: 17 1/2 x 8 3/4 in. (44.5 x 22.2cm), 54.112
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2005.)



Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
Turban Ornament in the Form of a Bird
India (Jaipur), 19th century
Enameled gold, gemstones
Overall: 4 1/2 x 3 x 1 1/2 in. (11.4 x 7.6 x 3.8cm), 44.43a-b
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2007.)

As for that jet set crowd of couriers, there’s an endearing parental air that each courier inevitably conveys toward the artwork they’ve been entrusted to safely deliver.  At international exhibitions such as this, couriers with varying degrees of jet lag hover, inspect, and in spare moments, coo over each other’s objects, which helps soothe the jangled nerves of a long journey and the unspoken hope that the next crate opened will be in as good shape as the last.

On the day of Shangri La’s object installation, I was delighted to meet two couriers from the Furusuyya Foundation in Liechtenstein delivering a veritable trove of goodies and a courier from Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain whose darling lustreware candlestick in the form of a horse and rider stole a few hearts.

Manises (Valencia, Spain), 1651-1725
Tin-glazed earthenware, molded, luster-painted
25.2 x. 23.5 x 12 cm
Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid
Lending museum objects is kind of like arranging a playdate for your objects. It’s exciting to get to see familiar objects in a new context and strangely gratifying to see them displayed alongside works of art from other institutions—like watching your kids having fun at the playground or pups romping at a dog park, but, more formal (everyone’s wearing gloves after all), no sudden moves, and a lot less mud.

The days leading up to an exhibition opening are periods of intense activity. They are the culmination of months and even years of planning. Gallery spaces are cluttered with people, pneumatic lifts, crates, supply carts, ladders and display cases in transit.  Registrars, in this case, DMA’s Patty Tainter, Associate Registrar, Exhibitions,  orchestrated the arrival of the artworks, carefully staggering the dates of multiple couriers’ itineraries and lining up the staff needed to efficiently open crates, carry out condition reporting, and installation. Curators, in this case, Dr. Sabiha al Khemir, DMA’s senior advisor for Islamic art, have the final say on the object arrangement before the case can be sealed. With each crate being unpacked there’s a collective air of expectancy akin  to a gift being opened; the relief that another object made it safe and sound, palpable. The objects in their custom-carved tyvek and ethafoam cavities, rest contentedly, endearingly familiar and blasé like a chortling baby in a crib oblivious to the surrounding commotion of installation activities.

patty condition reporting

DMA’s Associate Registrar, Exhibitions, Patty Tainter conducts a condition report of an incoming loan

There were many cases yet to be filled with treasures on that day, with the opening day still being two weeks out, but among my favorites was this trio of beauties from the British Museum. It’s all about the display. The dramatic lightbox effect for this willowy group of rosewater sprinklers calls to mind a glamorous trio of 1960s  Motown girl group singers. Meet the Supremes!

Three Swan-necked Bottles
Three Swan-necked Bottles
Persia, 1779-1925, Qajar
Glass, dip-molded, blown
Green: H. (max.) 35 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
Blue: H. (max.) 38.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 10.5 cm
White: H. (max.) 37.5 cm, Diam. (max.) 11 cm
The British Museum, London
[1877,0116.43, 1877,0116.44, 1895,0322.4]
Dallas Museum of Art is one to watch. It is soon to receive one of the world’s leading private collections of Islamic Art, the rarely exhibited Keir Collection, which will make DMA’s Islamic art holdings the third largest in North America (after the Met and Smithsonian’s Freer-Sackler Galleries). The Keir Collection is slated to arrive at DMA as a long-term loan beginning in May 2014. Go Dallas!

P.S. When you’re in Dallas, don’t forget to try a po boy. I hopped a free trolley ride across from the DMA to find mine. You’ll see the light at first bite.

po boys

Conserving the Syrian Room Mirrored Doors

Cupboard door (64.9.2) in the Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2009.)
Cupboard door (64.9.2) in the Syrian Room. Syria, Damascus, ca. 1840-60. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2009.)

The following is a guest post by conservation intern Kayleen Roberts.

In the Syrian Room at Shangri La, there is a pair of gilded wood, mirrored doors (64.9.2). The doors are from the Late Ottoman period of Syria. In 2010, they underwent extensive conservation work by students from the Winterthur conservation program in Delaware. Although the overall condition of the doors is stable, they are still very fragile, especially the hollow, wooden parts. Recently this fragility came to be realized during a routine cleaning, when part of the wood element was broken off of the door.

As a new conservation intern, I couldn’t help feeling daunted after being handed a plastic bag full of tiny wooden fragments awaiting their chance for repair. Although I was worried, this challenge also left me eager: I had a project. This project was different from the others, which for the most part involved immense amounts of cleaning. It was a test of my manual dexterity, my patience, and my desire to pursue a career in conservation. I accepted this challenge and devised a plan.

  1. Research: what is this piece’s conservation history?
  2. Documentation of the current condition, both written and photographic.
  3. Treatment proposal: what is the best way to make this repair?
  4. Carry out the plan for treatment.
  5. Treatment report, both written and photographic.

After completing the research and condition documentation, the first part of the treatment consisted of matching as many fragments as possible to their adjacent pieces, like a puzzle. Once the fragments were matched up, I used an adhesive and pieces of Japanese paper to join them. When the fragments had dried, voids were filled with a mixture of microscopic glass balloons and resin to reinforce the repair. The newly joined fragments were then reattached to their corresponding places on the wooden door, again with Japanese paper and an adhesive. Voids behind the repairs were filled in the same manner as voids in the fragments: with microscopic glass balloons and resin. Fill materials were coated with a layer of gloss acrylic emulsion medium and then toned with acrylic emulsion paints.

Mirrored doors before, during, and after treatment. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2013.
Portion of the mirrored doors before, during, and after treatment.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 2013.

Although this was a seemingly impossible task at first, I was able to complete this project with the help and guidance of Kent Severson, Shangri La’s conservator. I think of this repair now as the first “big” conservation project that I have been assigned. In the end, I’m sure it will seem to be such a small project, but for now, I am happy to say that I am proud of the work I did.

About the Guest Author: Kayleen Roberts has been living in Hawai‘i since 1995, when she and her family moved here from southern California. Her interest in the arts goes as far back as childhood, when she would spend time making jewelry. Throughout high school she took various art classes and continued to do so when she started attending Windward Community College in 2008. During her college education, she was able to travel to South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, which exposed her to a plethora of art historical traditions. In June of 2013, she graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a BA in art history and shortly afterward, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! In August she started working as a pre-program conservation intern at Shangri La, which will give her the necessary experience to apply to a conservation graduate program.

Conservation interns Kat Harada and Kayleen Roberts. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 2013.
Conservation interns Kat Harada and Kayleen Roberts.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i, 2013.

Mughal Suite Renovations: Behind the Ironed Curtain

This is the first in a series of posts featuring behind-the-scenes coverage of the current renovations at Shangri La’s Mughal Suite, the marble bedroom suite commissioned of Delhi-based British architect Francis B. Blomfield by Doris Duke on her honeymoon in 1935. The Mughal Suite is scheduled to open to the public in October 2014.

In the spring of 1936, newlywed Doris Duke Cromwell was just twenty-four years old when construction began on the 14,000 square foot Honolulu home to her then rapidly growing Islamic art collection. She was uncommon in circumstance and vision, to say the least. Yet there are lasting signs that the young Duke had a good bit in common with your average twenty-something today–if the fact that Shangri La’s collections include surf boards, a pair of water skis and plenty of bikinis is any indication. The staff here thought we’d seen it all until recently, when electrical renovations in the Mughal Suite began.

The original appearance of Doris Duke’s bedroom at Shangri La with furnishings acquired during her travels in 1935 and 1938, March-April 1939. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
The original appearance of Doris Duke’s bedroom at Shangri La, with furnishings acquired during her travels in 1935 and 1938, March-April 1939. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

A simple curtain once hung in the southwest corner of the bedroom between a pair of marble jali doors. Venturing to guess what was behind the curtain, one might assume it was the same vitrine that exists there today, a small wall-mounted exhibition case in which Duke later displayed a variety of bejeweled Mughal Indian treasures, including enameled gold boxes and jade-handled daggers.

Doris Duke's bedroom at Shangri La. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)
Doris Duke’s bedroom at Shangri La. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: David Franzen, 1999.)
A snapshot of the vitrine in the southwest corner of the bedroom circa 1999 documenting the arrangement of its contents as found by the first museum staff cataloguing the collection.
A snapshot of the vitrine in the southwest corner of the bedroom circa 1999, as found by the Shangri La curatorial team cataloging the collection following Doris Duke’s death in 1993.








The vitrine was cleared of its contents several years ago by museum staff to safely await the Mughal Suite’s turn among the many high priority restoration projects–from new roofs to fountain pump replacements–scheduled since 2001.  Even historic preservation work can entail demolition work, although it’s carried out with inordinate care and documented in detail. Unavoidably, the original vitrine had to be gutted for rewiring. It began a few weeks ago with exploratory surgery–a gentle tapping of the vitrine’s back wall, a noting of three mysterious hollows underneath the faded velvet–a tentative slicing of the velvet lining to see what lay beneath, revealing….

A piece of velvet is removed to further investigate the vitrine's original construction.
A piece of velvet is removed to further investigate the vitrine’s original construction.
Speakers found behind the southwest vitrine were deinstalled in December 2013.
Speakers found behind the southwest vitrine were deinstalled in December 2013.

…..whopping speakers.  Surprising? Yes and no, for what self-respecting twenty-something moves into a new house without installing a killer sound system?

A search in the Shangri La Historical Archives reaped correspondence and architectural drawings as early as 1937 confirming that the newfound speakers were a component of the Capehart system, a site-wide radio and phonographic sound system installed at Shangri La in 1939. The system seemingly consisted of a central cabinet with an “automatic record changer capable of handling twenty 10” or 12” phonograph records, playing either or both sides of same,” concealed remote control stations and hidden speakers allowing listeners to control the music in different rooms, switching between record player and radio with the click of a button and a turning of dials to select stations and adjust volume. At each location, listeners had access to 10 program channels (8 radio, 1 phonograph and 1 special input), which could be independently tuned, that is, with the radio on in one room, a different radio program on in another, and a phonograph record playing down the hall. A 50-foot high aerial to be tucked among ironwood trees along the east boundary of the property was another essential component.

Annotated correspondence with the architects dated May 1, 1937 reflects the Cromwells' active participation in the Capehart design process. Shangri La Historical Archives, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Annotated correspondence with the architects dated May 1, 1937, reflects the Cromwells’ active participation in the Capehart design process. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

The central equipment was installed in a walk-in closet between the dining room and Mihrab Room, possibly hidden behind a pair of Persian painted wood doors. This closet was referred to in early architectural drawings as the Capehart room, a long-forgotten name as the room came to be known as the library with its book-lined walls. There is no trace today of the Capehart equipment it once contained.

Construction-era architectural drawings show the Capehart room, known later as the library, as being located between the Mihrab room and dining room. Shangri La Historical Archives, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Construction-era architectural drawings show the Capehart room, known later as the library, as being located between the Mihrab room and dining room. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

The Capehart system first appears in the house architectural plans in early 1937. An as-built or record drawing of the Capehart system from 1939 indicates speakers were installed in the living room and Damascus room (then called the guest room or Christine’s room, referring to James Cromwell’s daughter). A March 21, 1939, Thayer Piano invoice indicates that the Capehart 1939 model was installed with speakers in the living room, bedroom, dining room, guest room, main control room, and Playhouse. While repair invoices from 1943 and 1947 show the system was in use, further research is needed to try to determine at what point the system was abandoned.


A sticker on the back of each speaker identifies the manufacturer as Cinaudagraph.
A sticker on the back of each speaker identifies the manufacturer as Cinaudagraph.

The speakers were made by Cinaudagraph Corp. in Stamford, Connecticut (small world, this blog post writer’s hometown). A year after the Capehart System was installed at Shangri La, Cinaudagraph’s chief engineer, Rudy Bozak (whose name, thank you,Wikipedia, is still on the lips of DJs for the sound mixers he designed and is even mentioned in a Beastie Boys song) designed a massive PA system for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Point being, the Capehart system was surely a state-of-the-art sound system of its day.

The current plan for the speakers is to place them back in the wall behind the new vitrine, where they’ll remain as a time capsule, hidden behind fresh red velvet dripping with Mughal Indian treasures. A cabinet of curiosities indeed.

Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange at Shangri La

On April 4–5, 2012, 22 emerging documentary filmmakers, television producers and members of the Independent Television Service (ITVS) gathered at Shangri La as part of the Diverse Muslim Voices Initiative funded by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Arts’ Building Bridges Program.

Convening participants in front of the Playhouse at Shangri La

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Musa Syeed (Valley of Saints, Bronx Princess, A Son’s Sacrifice) opened the meeting with a talk on media portrayals of Islam and Muslims in the United States today. Of Kashmiri descent, Syeed  grew up in Indiana, which made him adept at seeing cultural issues from a variety of nuanced perspectives.

Next, the emerging filmmakers got a chance to pitch their latest projects to representatives from major funding organizations—among them Orlando Bagwell, director of JustFilms media content fund at the Ford Foundation; Ryan Harrington, director of documentary programming for the Tribeca Film Institute; Leslie Fields-Cruz, vice president of operations and programs for the National Black Programming Consortium; and Sapana Sakya, public media director at the Center for Asian American Media. The experts provided valuable insight and feedback, as well as pointers about marketing, partnerships, and funding.

Here are just a few of the great projects presented at the meeting:

Heavy Metal Islam, a film by Jed Rothstein, was originally envisioned as a documentary about the heavy metal music scene in Egypt. In 2008, midway through filming, Egypt’s Arab Spring erupted and the film became a story about a revolution.

Two Children of the Red Mosque, a film by Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi, examines the very different lives of two children enrolled in the Red Mosque madrassa, one of Pakistan’s most notorious institutions.

Filmmaker Idris Abdul-Zahir pitching his film project Iladelph Break Boy to the panel

Five Broken Cameras, a film by Emad Burnat, chronicles five years of West Bank protests and the extreme difficulties of everyday life in Palestine through the eyes and experiences of a Palestinian photographer and his family.

Iladelph Break Boy, a film by Idris Abdul-Zahir and Usame Tunagur, follows an African-American Muslim from Philadelphia who achieves international fame as a break dancer, but then must return home and redefine his life.

Islam on the Inside, a film by Justin Mashouf, documents the experiences of three Muslim converts transitioning out of incarceration on the Southside of Chicago.

Convening participants departing Shangri La following a fruitful day of dialogue via the Mughal Garden at Shangri La

Mashouf reflected on the convening: “Coming from a television background in LA, where documentary concepts spark, fizzle, and are replaced in an instant, I often find the task of producing sincere stories about Muslims to be impossible. The Diverse Muslim Voices Exchange allowed us an opportunity to better produce these stories and to share moments of solidarity with one another as we face many of the same challenges.”

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Tulip Fever

I’m pleased to announce that this is the first post in a series entitled A Few of Our Favorite Things, which is especially designed to give you an insider’s perspective on Shangri La and an in-depth look at the staff’s favorite objects within the collection.


Descending the stairway in the Foyer.

I feel it only right to confess that I have a rather serious condition. Its name – Tulip Fever. I adore the Iznik floral tiles embedded in the walls of the Foyer! I love the Iznik dishes in the Syrian Room vitrines! And when I’m alone, I secretly lavish visual caresses on the Iznik pieces resting in the collection storage areas. Alas, this is the nature of my condition. And I’m hoping that by the end of this post, you’ll catch a mild case of it yourself…

I first discovered the glory of Iznik tiles while standing in the Foyer as a visitor to Shangri La (several years before I would become staff), surrounded by over 600 tiles. I was drawn to the jagged, serrated edges of the green saz leaves, the burnt red of the tulips and the tightness of the repeating arabesque design.  And I recall distinctively thinking, as I looked at the tiles, “What are tulips doing in Islamic art?!”

As it turns out, the tulip, a flower I casually considered as no more than a candy-colored lollipop, has a much more colorful past than you might initially suspect. Indeed, the tulip has deep roots. To fully understand just how deeply they tangle in Iznik pottery and the greater human experience for that matter, we must first appreciate that flowers began flaunting their beauty long before we as a species were around to appreciate them. In fact, more than 100,000,000 years ago (give or take a few thousand years) the first flowers, members of the scientifc class of plants known as the Angiosperms, began stretching delicate petals to the sky, attracting all sorts of winged admirers.

The Foyer at Shangri La.

It would be considerably later that they would attract their first two-legged admirers. Some 50,000 years ago on a summer day in Iraq, between the end of May and the beginning of July, a Neanderthal man was buried at Shanidar Cave on a bed of ramose branches and flowers. Surprised?! You’re not alone! The Shanidar Cave site is the first known documentation of a humanoid species deliberately “picking flowers,” let alone association with a death ritual (Leroi-Gourhan: 564). Clearly, flowers have long held a place of beauty and importance in our lives and those of our distant ancestors.

Shifting focus regionally to the mountains of Central Asia, we find that this is where scientists suspect the first wild tulips sprung up. Under human attention, the wild tulips’ colors diversified and intensified, and before long the tulip was on the move. From Central Asia, the tulip made its way to Turkey and then on to Europe, meeting with great adoration.The Ottoman sultan Ahmed III (1673-1736) famously loved tulips, hosting numerous lavish festivals and celebrations in honor of them. A period of time known as the “Tulip Era” (1718-1730) speaks to the craze that enveloped the Ottoman royal court, with elite members of society planting tulips throughout their gardens. Tulips first appear in Ottoman art in the 1540s and soon were proudly displayed on clothing, hanging textiles and yes, tiles! Here too the tulip became entwined with notions of nobility, privilege and royalty.

This Iznik dish has a large, dense floral spray at the center with tulips, hyacinths, rosettes and saz leaves in red, cobalt and green on a white background. The dish is made of stonepaste and dates to ca. 1580 (Ottoman period). Object Number: 48.24.

This flower wasn’t just for royalty though. In the 17th century, a whole country went mad for it! Between 1634 and 1637, tulips swept the Dutch into a mass frenzy that has become known as “tulip mania.” In the 1600s, the Dutch dominated many of the global maritime exchange and economic systems, pushing many merchants into the upper echelons of society. And what flower says “I’ve arrived” better than the tulip? Soon, gardens all over the Netherlands were filled with blooming tulips. At the height of “tulip mania,” one tulip sold for the equilvalent of an Amsterdam riverfront estate. To put this in contemporary terms, this is equivalent to a New York townhouse on 5th Avenue, on in monetary terms, 10 or 15 million dollars, for a single tulip bulb — how crazy is that?!

As with all good things, “tulip mania,” with its vastly overpriced bulbs, came to an end, or more of an economic meltdown, really. The Dutch passion for the tulip aesthetic had spurred one of the largest investment bubbles in history. Despite this sordid past, few nations today love the tulip more than the Netherlands. Growers, who grow billions of

This Iznik dish has a varied polychrome flower spray at center with tulips, peonies, carnations and a small cypress tree extending from a base of leaves. This dish is made of stonepaste and dates to ca. 1565 (Ottoman period). Object Number: 48.33.

bulbs a year for export, call thier passionate love for thier work “tulip fever.” I too have “tulip fever,” just as I suspect the sultans of the Ottoman empire and the potters of Iznik, Turkey did; and I think they would concur — it’s quite a lovley burn!

Now whenever I gaze at the Iznik tiles in Foyer, my mind drifts to the curious fact that flowers have attracted our ancestors for millennia and, despite time and distance, that a long-dead Ottoman Sultan and I might both adore red tulips! Today, Turkish potters continue to manufacture high-quality copies of long loved Iznik tiles. These new Iznik tiles are destined for a range of domestic and foreign markets (obviously I’m not the only one who likes staring at Iznik tiles!). So the next time you are taking in a piece of artwork you’ve never seen before, I encourage you to let your mind wander where it will. There’s no telling how deep the roots grow, until you dig!

The author, Rowan Gard, in the Foyer with red tulips.

For those interested in further exploring the above topics, I recommend reading Islamic Tiles by Venetia Porter (Interlink Publishing Group, 1995), The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (Random House, 2002) and “The Flowers Found with Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal Burial in Iraq” by Arlette Leroi-Gourhan in Science (1975). And please do feel free to post questions or comments regarding your favorite things in Shangri La’s collection!