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.
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.
The marble Jali Pavilion reinstallation work continues on the roof of Shangri La’s Mughal Suite. When we last wrote, just after Thanksgiving, the team from Spectra had arrived and begun unpacking the newly cast concrete elements for the Jali Pavilion. After only a few days the first arches and columns began to appear above the roof line.
The decorative features and finishes of the original Jali Pavilion were modeled in place on the roof, giving the white mortar work a smooth continuous feel in spite of slight differences in dimension from one section to the next. Only a few of the columns, moldings and arches survived the 2010 de-installation to be reused as models for the reconstruction. Coaxing these slightly irregular pieces together to recreate that flawless look proved to be a challenge.
After a week and a half, there were enough columns up to begin testing the placement of the marble openwork panels. At about this time, however, a small discrepancy was discovered between the anchors in the new roof and the channels for the anchors in the columns. The project engineer was consulted and solutions devised (including a redesign of one of the columns), which slowed the project down.
By this time the Christmas holiday was upon us and the Spectra team returned to Los Angeles, leaving visitors and staff with a tantalizing glimpse of what was to come.
The team returned on the third of January, rested, refreshed and ready to resume work. With all the engineering bugs worked out, we look forward to swift progress and the successful return of one of Shangri La’s most beautiful and characteristic architectural ornaments.
Remember the pavilion on top of the Mughal Suite at Shangri La? It is being reinstalled! The pavilion includes the openwork marble panels, or jalis, that were commissioned in India in 1935 and broke in transit to Hawai‘i. Doris Duke commissioned another set for her bedroom suite, patched together the broken jalis, and had her architect design a rooftop pavilion around them. The rooftop jalis are supported by decorative concrete surrounds (frames), all of which had to be removed in order to complete the 2011 roof work over the Mughal Suite and Moroccan Room. In the course of removal, the deteriorated adhesive used in the 1930s repair gave way. Two years ago, the fragmented panels were packed in crates and stored on the tennis court.
In April of 2012, we unpacked the panels one by one to document their condition and develop our systems for cleaning and repair. Working with interns Kat Harada and Liane Ikemoto, and Collections Technician Linda Gue, most of the jalis were cleaned and initial repairs begun.
In May, the jalis and sections of the concrete surrounds were shipped to Spectra, an architectural firm in Pomona, California, so they could replicate the old cast concrete surrounds and complete the marble repairs using a structural epoxy adhesive.
I made three trips to Pomona to assist with and inspect the marble repair work. The new system is deliberately designed so that, in the future, the marble jalis can be removed from their cast concrete surrounds without destroying them. This required the fabrication of 17 new silicone rubber molds and 132 newly cast elements.
In early November all of the pieces returned to Hawai‘i, and the first crates were delivered to Shangri La on Monday, November 26.
With a small crane, the crates (73 crates weighing 80,000 pounds total) were lifted from the entry courtyard, over the private garden and onto the roof. By Wednesday afternoon, unpacking was completed and the first of the new columns was ready to be installed.
With the reinstallation of the Jali Pavilion, we are returning one of Shangri La’s truly character-defining features. Stay tuned for updates as the work proceeds.
A little after four in the morning, the silence is broken by the sound of drummers passing nearby, waking the faithful early to eat before beginning the day’s fast. It is Ramadan in south west Turkey. I arrived at the New York University archaeological excavations at Aphrodisias on the ninth of July and the wake-up sequence has started with drummers since the twentieth. The drummers wake the dogs, who howl to each other until the call to prayer echoes across the landscape a little after five, as Homer’s ‘rosy fingered dawn’ begins to light the sky. Going back to sleep is hopeless, and so begins another day on an active archaeological site.
Aphrodisias is a well preserved, medium-sized Roman city, known for its wealth of sculpture and extravagantly decorated buildings. To learn more about the site, visit the New York University website. This season marks my twentieth year of participation in the project. Future participation will depend on the work load at Shangri La, but it is likely that this will be my last full season—making for a wistful, nostalgic six weeks.
I am the senior field conservator at Aphrodisias, and my primary responsibility is for the care of artifacts from the moment of discovery—through the process of cleaning and stabilization—to a new life in the on-site museum or in a long-term storage depot. I have two student interns this season, Quinn Ferris from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts conservation training program and Volkan Sevinç from Ankara University’s Vocational Training School conservation program. While waiting for newly excavated finds to appear, they patiently nibble away at our backlog of over a thousand coins from previous seasons, which were waiting to be cleaned, and boxes of Late Roman glass tessera wall mosaics.
The season begins somewhat slowly. Archaeologists have opened two big excavations, one in a long decorative pool that was the centerpiece of a colonnaded stoa in the center of the city, known as the South Agora, and another series of trenches along what might be called Aphrodisias’s “Broadway,” a central street connecting the theater with the sacred area near the Temple of Aphrodite. The superimposed layers of soil in both excavations begin with a thick layer of Medieval mud that yields few artifacts of note.
Meanwhile, in addition to looking after recently excavated material, I work with my colleague Trevor Proudfoot, of Cliveden Conservation Workshop, Maidenhead, England, to stabilize and preserve larger structures and their decorative features in situ. Since 2008 we have been working in a large bath building, built during the time of Hadrian (AD 117–138). This season, in addition to relaying shattered floors and revetments, we clear debris from a collapsed hypocaust, an under-floor heating system. Although previously excavated, tons of soil, broken mortar and stones, and other debris remain; with our shade nets up and a long ramp in place, the work resembles a mining operation.
Things don’t heat up in the excavations until August 13, with the discovery of two life-size Roman portrait sculptures that had been used as footing for a Medieval wall. It takes an entire day for me and a team of workmen to extricate them, but by the 16th they are lifted by crane and transported to our workshop for cleaning. The sculptures are deposited, one face up and one face down, at an elevation where rising and falling groundwater leaves behind a hard grey crust. The Late Antique portrait of a very stout man that was face up cannot easily be cleaned in the short time left to us on site, but the High Imperial portrait that was face down cleans up beautifully, revealing exquisite carving and traces of a high polish.
With the end of Ramadan on the 19th of August, the 2012 excavations at Aphrodisias come to an exciting end. Upon hearing that it might be my last full season for some time, my friends and colleagues conspire to throw a surprise dinner and dance party in my honor before we all leave to return to the real world. Saying “so long” to the local workmen with whom I have labored for so many years breaks my heart, but the warmth expressed by my teammates provides necessary closure. Although I will miss archaeological field work dearly, I look forward to the days ahead at Shangri La.
The following is a guest post by conservation interns Samantha Skelton and Jessica Ford.
During the summer of 2012, we have had the pleasure of working at Shangri La as interns from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). As part of our three-year master’s program, this internship has given us the opportunity to help preserve a beautiful piece of Doris Duke’s historic home: the Syrian Room. The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (which owns and operates Shangri La) and WUDPAC have partnered for the past eight years to support this summer internship; previous interns completed the conservation of the newly-opened Damascus Room, and the past two summers have brought WUDPAC interns into the Syrian Room to conserve the ceiling and the mirrored doors in the large chamber.
The Syrian Room was installed by Duke and her staff in the late 1970s, during which time extensive campaigns of restoration were carried out on many of the room’s elements. Duke sought to create an entrancing space which would evoke the feeling of a traditional qa‘a, or reception hall, that could be found in a wealthy eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Damascene home. Brightly colored painted wood paneling, gilded surfaces, an awe-inspiring decorative wooden ceiling and a marble floor and fountain delight the senses and showcase the home’s prosperity and the owner’s fashionable taste. Though Duke created the room from elements taken from several different Damascene homes, she arranged the room in the typical style of a qa‘a, with a lowered entry space (‘ataba) with a fountain,), a raised seating platform (tazar) and a raised ceiling supported by a whitewashed wall inset with decorative windows. The overall feeling of this arrangement is light, airy and inviting, while the color scheme is designed to dazzle the viewer.
Shangri La’s seaside locale and semi-open air design, along with Hawai‘i’s warm, humid, and salty climate, means that its collection of Islamic art will need conservation care from time to time. The painted wooden elements in the room had several persistent condition issues, including flaking paint, subsurface insect damage and structural issues caused by wood’s natural tendency to respond dimensionally to changes in the environment. Our goals this summer included mapping the current condition of each section of the room, to serve as baseline documentation for future comparison, and to address the immediate issue of flaking paint. We slowly worked our way through the room, documenting the decorative panels, cabinets and calligraphic cartouches that adorn the walls, and consolidated (re-adhered) flaking paint where necessary.
As both of us will be specializing in paintings conservation as we continue our education, this summer gave us the opportunity to work on an unorthodox object in our field: an Islamic architectural interior. It also offered us the opportunity to enhance our hand, observational, and problem-solving skills, which will serve us well in the coming years. As the summer comes to a close, we have been very grateful to work in a wonderful cultural institution, to live on this beautiful island, and to contribute to the preservation of a unique example of Syrian interior architecture.
About the Guest Authors: Samantha Skelton and Jessica Ford are students in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). Their Shangri La internship ran from June 25-August 17, 2012.
The following is a guest post by historic preservation intern Alison Chiu.
The field of historic preservation is full of unanticipated treasures!
I recently began the broad task of creating an inventory of Shangri La’s on-site and stored architectural elements. Working with Operations Manager Bill Miyaji, we began by diving into years of accumulated architectural storage in the basement. Amidst piles of bronze door hardware and long-abandoned projects of partially carved white marble, we stumbled upon many treasures including an unmarked black bag of trefoil-design ceramic picket tiles (the likes of which currently line the edge of bougainvillea and hibiscus beds at the central courtyard and along the swimming pool), as well as a 1938 Leonard thermostatic mixing valve, an operating device designed to mix water from two separate supply lines in order to provide a user-controlled shower temperature as desired. Our most exciting find, however, was a pile of dusty, old wooden block forms.
Ten large wooden pieces, measuring approximately 1 foot by 2-1/2 feet and 3 inches thick, were inconspicuously stacked upon a shelf along with a jumble of smaller wood pieces, almost resembling toys, piled on top. We were intrigued by the distinct sharp, curved lines of the larger items. As we looked more closely and began to lay a couple pieces out on the ground, it became apparent that we had found original formwork that was used to make the concrete crenellations that decorate the Playhouse roof! These wooden pieces date back to 1939 and are still in very good condition today.
In 1938, the Cromwells traveled to Isfahan, Iran, and brought back photographs of the Chihil Sutun, a pavilion built in the middle of the seventeenth century during the reign of Shah Abbas II. This pavilion served as an inspiration for the Playhouse. The façade of the Playhouse, which sits along a major visual axis of the site, depicts a series of elongated columns and intricately stenciled designs at the cornice and ceiling of the main portico and is mirrored in the clear blue reflection of the saltwater swimming pool. Historically, the Playhouse served as quarters for guests of the Cromwells, and as a recreation area for army and navy officers stationed in Hawai‘i during World War II.
Not only are the recently discovered formwork pieces interesting from an architectural and construction technology perspective (potentially providing information about historic practices in the concrete industry, as well as methods of ornamental concrete production and availability of local building materials), they are also indispensable tools that may prove useful if additional crenellations need to be made in the future.
That exciting moment of discovery, as well as contact with the tangible product of an experienced craftsperson, is always a humbling experience and one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in historic preservation. We invite you to visit Shangri La and discover the beauty of art, landscape, and architecture yourself!
About the Guest Author: A recent graduate of the Master of Science program in Historic Preservation at Columbia University, Alison Chiu is currently working as a consultant to the Foundation (June-September, 2012). Following her 2011 summer internship at Shangri La, Chiu is currently developing a system to adequately record Shangri La’s intensive stewardship efforts through capital projects, building operations and grounds work for present and future staff and researchers. Her research and documentation include creation of a cyclical repair and maintenance plan for the site, as well as co-collaboration on institutional archives policy for Shangri La’s newly-created historic preservation materials library. While at Columbia University, she conducted research on historic wall drainage systems and will present an illustrated lecture on her graduate thesis work, The Evolution of the Weep-Hole, at the 2012 Association for Preservation Technology Conference in Charleston, South Carolina.
As always, the grounds and maintenance staff at Shangri La continue to address major repair and maintenance needs in the buildings and the landscape. Most
recently, they have renovated the Playhouse pond and garden. The pond area was emptied and decommissioned several years ago after heavy rains and the subsequent flooding of the Playhouse, a building modeled on the 17th-century royal pavilion in Isfahan, Iran, called the Chihil Sutun http://www.shangrilahawaii.org/Tour-The-Property/Playhouse/.
Following the removal of a few trees to open up the space and let in sun; the addition of new lighting and landscaping; and the installation of a new pump and filter system,
this area is lovely once again. This project is a very appealing improvement to
the Playhouse, which serves as home to visiting scholars and artists-in-residence
and also as the venue for most programs.
Many thanks to Shangri La’s Facilities & Grounds staff for the wonderful job!