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.
About 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.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La guide Susan Killeen.
While showing guests through the Syrian Room at Shangri La, one of my joys is lighting up the low tea table (65.9) under the nineteenth-century Moroccan embroidered and appliqued textile in the smaller room. It’s as if the table waits patiently in the dimly lit space to perform for visitors when the light shines, and it never fails to elicit a chorus of oooos.
The table, or khwan, is a beauty from late nineteenth–early twentieth-century Iran, probably the Qajar period. When created, it very likely did not have the same legs, and may have had short ones to elevate it just slightly. Rather than a table, this ornate piece was most likely an elaborate tray or “trencher” as it might be called. One might imagine that it once carried an array of sweet and savory dishes to be shared with guests.
An excellent example of the artistic genius found in Islamic art, the table asserts the details of geometry, calligraphy, floral, and figurative imagery—a visual delight. The surface is a painted, gilded, and lacquered wood graced with scenes of princely life. Exquisitely featured medallions or cartouches depict several figures in a forest landscape with a variety of birds and wild animals. A number of leisurely figures interact while two youths demonstrate their prowess on horseback. The overall dimensions of the piece are 11 3/8 x 32 5/8 x 62 inches.
A narrow, floral border frames the central panel. Inscriptions of Persian poetry surround the edges of the table, beginning in the upper right hand corner and continuing around to the left. True to the artistic culture and custom of the period, the poetry (translated by former scholar-in-residence Wheeler Thackston) praises the table for its beauty and service:
habbaza khwane ki naqshash bas khwash u zebasti
O what a marvelous table, the design of which is so pleasing! How beautiful you are!
hamchu chihr-i dilbaran janbakhsh u ruhafzasti
Like the countenances of charmers, you are life-giving and spirit-increasing.
rashk-i naqsh-i Azar u Mani ki naqshash chun nigar
A design so beautiful it would make Azer and Mani jealous.
dilsitan u naghz u khwash u zebasti
Ravishing, comely, beautiful, good, and charming you are.
inchunin alhaq qarin-i khanda khwan u naqsh band
Thus truly a table and design coupled with laughter.
diljo-i bazm-i shahanshah-i jahan-arasti
You are a comfort at the banquet of a world-adorning king of kings.
For me, the fact that an otherwise utilitarian object would be so charmingly embellished speaks to the fact that the arts have the power to lift us up and enrich the function and beauty of the everyday items we use. The artisans of Islamic culture certainly appreciated this concept as a way of life.
About the Guest Author: Susan Killeen is a writer and producer, having worked in television and on educational documentaries. She served as executive director of the Hawaii Consortium for the Arts and as President of the Honolulu Pen Women. She has taught creative writing and has worked as an interpretive guide at Shangri La since 2011.
As we finish up our last week here at Shangri La, we can’t help but to reflect on the amazing experiences we have had over the past eight weeks. Spending an entire summer surrounded by exquisite Islamic art and architecture on the southern coast of Oahu proved to be quite an experience. As part of our ongoing art conservation training at Buffalo State University and Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and in conjunction with the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, we were able to participate in a project to help preserve another part of Doris Duke’s historic home: the Syrian Room ceiling. The project involved thoroughly documenting the ceiling’s condition as well as the inch-by-inch consolidation of loose and flaking paint and decoration. Much of the degradation observed on the ceiling is likely a result of its close proximity to the salty waters of the Pacific.
Although Shangri La’s oceanside locale is visually stunning, the physical and chemical effects from salt-laden aerosols incurred by the art and architecture on site are not as breathtaking. Salt-filled air from the Pacific Ocean passes through the open corridors of the home: corroding metals, penetrating painted surfaces, and otherwise accelerating the degradation processes of a myriad of materials. The preservation of the site as a whole requires constant upkeep by conservation, curatorial, and maintenance personnel.
Given these aggressive environmental conditions (salt, water, heat- oh my!) and the current state of the ceiling, the required treatment was addressed using an “archaeological site approach.” Essentially, this site needs help, and it will not spend its life in a dim-lit, temperature and RH-controlled environment, so a more intense intervention is required. With syringes and paintbrushes in hand, we injected and wicked adhesive into every crevice and cupped paint flake necessary to prevent further flaking and cracking to ensure the stability of the surface as a whole. The project took us approximately one month to complete.
Shangri La conservator Kent Severson, ensured us that for the remaining four weeks of our internship, there was no shortage of objects to work on. The greatly anticipated opening of the Mughal Suite initiated our first project: the treatment of two Krishna sculptures. Both sculptures required the removal of corroded iron dowels and the reattachment of appendages with stainless steel dowels and polyester resin. Collectively, this summer we have been given the chance to work on sculptures and architectural elements made from schist, marble, stone, ivory, gold, and mother of pearl. The internship here at Shangri La provided a great opportunity to work with a truly unique collection made from vastly different materials and techniques.
We have learned a great deal this summer about Shangri La, Doris Duke, and the conservation of the collection, and we have also learned a great deal about Hawaii and Hawaiian culture and hospitality. It is with a heavy heart we bid adieu to our Shangri La ohana, we will miss you dearly!
We’re happy to present this guest blog post by Kristen Costa, Assistant Curator at the Newport Restoration Foundation.
Greetings from one of Doris Duke’s other houses!
Rough Point was Doris Duke’s Newport, Rhode Island, home; at the time of her death in 1993, she left the house to the Newport Restoration Foundation, which she founded in 1968 to restore eighteenth-century properties in the city. Her generosity and extraordinary vision in saving the physical structures of colonial history in Newport had an impact on the city in a way that is still evident today.
While her work in the city is easily seen and appreciated, we here at the NRF wanted to learn more about Duke as a philanthropist. We know so much about the causes she was passionate about, the organizations she founded and the great work of the foundation in her name, but we did not realize the depth, diversity and wide reach of her charitable giving throughout her life. In order to honor and explore this aspect of her life, we decided to focus our yearly exhibit at Rough Point on the topic. “A Career of Giving: The Surprising Legacy of Doris Duke” explores how Duke, a renaissance woman with such diverse interests and abilities, turned her substantial wealth into a philanthropic empire that was her life’s work.
It is estimated that during her lifetime, Duke donated over $400 million to charitable causes, much of it anonymously. Our exhibit focuses not only on the timeline of her giving, but highlights the Duke family’s tradition of philanthropy, beginning with her grandfather, Washington Duke, and continuing through her father, James B. Duke. We look at some of the causes that she gave frequently to: the arts, women & child welfare, medical research, and the environment. In doing research for the exhibit, we uncovered so many interesting stories of Duke’s philanthropy, including providing funds for individuals to attend music school; giving money to the British government in the early days of World War II to help their war effort; funding Russian Studies academic programs at numerous United States universities; contributing money to the United States Olympic Committee, and so much more.
Perhaps one of her least known philanthropic endeavors was her work with the American Indian population, including funding the American Indian Oral History Project. From 1966 to the 1980s, Duke made donations to universities in the United States for the collection of oral histories of American Indian tribe members. They included the universities of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah, and the University of California at Los Angeles. More than 5,000 interviews were recorded capturing important spoken histories of American Indian life and culture, including the heroic work of the Navajo Code Talkers who served in the United States military during World War II. In addition, Duke made donations of Jersey cattle to the people of the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota. As a thank you, the tribe honored Duke at a naming ceremony in 1960 with the name “Wa-cantki-ye-win,” which translates to “Princess Charity.” We are lucky enough to have the dress the Sioux made for Duke for the ceremony, as well as a number of custom-made thank-you belts, moccasins and accessories on display as part of the exhibit.
“A Career of Giving: The Surprising Legacy of Doris Duke” is open at Rough Point for the 2013 season, from April to November 9 and is part of the regular house tour. More information is available at our website.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La guide Stacy Pope.
As a tour guide at Shangri La, I feel lucky to spend so much time at such an exquisite place. The more I learn about the property and its vast collection of Islamic art, the more I love it—and that seems to be true for many of our visitors as well.
One of my favorite things at Shangri La is a colorful mosaic (48.93) located in the patio, or central courtyard. It is strikingly beautiful and grand, to be sure; it’s also a masterpiece of craftsmanship. But most of all, I enjoy observing visitors as I explain the inspiration for the mosaic’s design and the incredible amount of effort and skill its creation required. I watch as they gradually transform from passively appreciative to engaged, gathering around the mosaic’s gleaming façade for closer study and lingering even as we move toward the living room.
Handcrafted 75 years ago in Isfahan, Iran, the mosaic is young in comparison to many of Shangri La’s centuries-old works of art. The fact that it perfectly fits the patio’s protruding south wall—which is 11 feet wide and 20 feet tall—is no accident; Doris Duke and her husband, James Cromwell, commissioned the mosaic with this very spot in mind.
In 1938, as construction on Shangri La neared completion, the couple traveled through Iran (as well as Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Egypt) for artistic inspiration and to purchase pieces for their new home. In Isfahan, they were particularly impressed with the early-seventeenth-century structures framing Naqsh-e Jahan Square (today a UNESCO World Heritage Site), including several ornate palaces and the astounding Masjid-i Shah, or Shah Mosque. Archives at Shangri La and at Duke University contain Mr. Cromwell’s photographs and film footage documenting its intricately patterned portal panels. These panels, rich in floral and geometric designs and flanked by calligraphic cartouches, became the models for Shangri La’s patio mosaic design.
Work soon began on the Cromwells’ commission—but the process would be long and arduous. First, batches of stonepaste tiles were glazed in cobalt, turquoise, kelly green, mustard yellow, brown, brick red, white and black; then, each batch was fired individually, as each color demanded a unique firing temperature for maximum glaze brilliance.
Then the cutting of the tiles began. Mosaics are something like jigsaw puzzles, requiring many small pieces that fit together to make one larger image. The more complicated the design and color scheme, the more pieces it can take. The patio mosaic called for approximately 17,000 pieces—each cut by hand into tiny circles, asymmetrical squiggles, half moons and every other shape imaginable. When the cut tiles were complete, each had to be placed upside down into the pattern. Plaster was then poured, bonding the pieces together into one work of art.
Then the Cromwells faced the problem of getting the mosaic all the way from Iran to Hawai‘i—in the midst of World War II. In 1940 it finally arrived, having traveled eastward by ship to New York before backtracking to Honolulu.
The finished mosaic features vibrant floral arabesques, interlocking leafy vines and four cartouches containing Koranic inscriptions that honor Allah and praise the god-fearing mortal. At its crown, a cryptic geometric design encodes the repeating message “May it be blessed” in Kufic script. The entire work is framed in serpentine vines.
What an artistic achievement—and what magnificence the mosaic adds to Shangri La.
About the Guest Author: Raised just down the road from Shangri La, Stacy Pope has worked as an interpretive guide at the museum since 2011. She is also a published travel writer and magazine editor.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La artist-in-residence Dr. Anita Vallabh.
As I sat on the lanai of the Playhouse, looking at the majesty of the ocean, its constant conversations with the shoreline, I imagined the romance of their nature. Yet each assumes a role true to itself, living its purpose. Having read Kahlil Gibran and Jalaluddin Rumi, I began to visualize the ocean as the lover seemingly seeking the beloved, somehow aware through its tireless efforts that the truth and power it seeks lie in its own depths, where silence reigns.
In the presence of such magnificence and enchanting beauty, how can one not be conscious of being within a space whose very description captures its ethereal beauty in the words itself? How can one not be true to oneself and create the most honest work of art? How can one not hold a mirror to one’s life? How can one not put their egoist considerations aside, consider their past mistakes and seize the present opportunity to rectify them? How far can the tears be, given the wonders and blessings of our lives? And of the many hardships and pains that taught us the most valuable lessons? How can we not infuse movements that transform everyday gestures and familiar behavior with aesthetic delight?
Going back and forth between art and life…like the resounding waves holding within their depths the silence of life………such is the enchantment of Shangri La.
Shangri La is a much-revered destination for scholars, artists and tourists. In opening its doors to research and researchers in diverse fields, they have built a body of work that enriches not only our understanding of the artifacts housed therein but also recreates the story of times bygone.
When I read Wheeler Thackston’s (scholar in residence, December 3–8, 2010) translations of verses inscribed on some of the artifacts, they suggested to me the spiritual discipline of the artists, and the aesthetic experience that allowed for such exquisite workmanship. These translations and the music of Ghulam Farid Nizami (who performed at Shangri La in March 2012) provided me with the material for a new choreographic piece in dance. So many resources, so many opportunities made possible because of the dedication, fortitude and single-mindedness to serve the arts. To me, Shangri La represents an enduring legacy of learning.
It is in this magical space that I was invited to perform. I am deeply humbled by this invitation to create and perform Suzani: A Weaving of Traditionsalong with my revered kumu, Vicky Holt Takamine, and her very creative son, Jeff Takamine. Vicky truly represents the beauty, grace and dignity of Hawaiian culture. As two artists respectful of each other’s legacies of inherited culture and tradition, we worked for ten days, weaving together, with an unwavering commitment, patterned sequences of movements—sometimes complimentary sometimes opposing—allowing the movements to communicate and flow into one another. There was only the desire to flow with the music and allow our trained bodies to seek the rhythmic patterns, sometimes following the rhythms of the music, sometimes finding the silent space between the rhythms and sometimes chanting over the music.
Each of us looked forward to the process and to the rigors of practice and more practice, and the many ideas and input from every dancer. We shared our cultures, our approaches to learning, and the unique teacher/student relationship. For me, the most memorable moment was watching Jeff choreograph to Indian/Sufi music—the shift in orientation that was required of him. His brilliant mind weaved together movements both graceful and powerful to seamlessly bring together the music and dance. Another unforgettable experience was learning to make a lei. In the short time that I had between practice sessions I tried my hand at slicing through the ti leaves. I was charmed by the aloha spirit that the dancers infused into the lei making process. Later Jeff told me that each dancer was required to make her lei with “good and happy thoughts.”
As the performance date approached, we became more relaxed and confident. The vagaries of the weather caused some anxiety, but time and again Kumu Vicky assured us that the weather Gods would bless the evening and the performance by providing us with the perfect backdrop and lighting.
She could not have been more accurate in her prediction.
Based on this experience, it is my opinion that if two artists from significantly different backgrounds communicate well with each other and practice together they can weave the various elements of their individual artistic traditions around each other. What then evolves is a seamless weave of various threads into a cogent pattern, creating a tapestry of extraordinary cohesiveness.
I take back with me wonderful memories of time shared, of wonderful and inspiring people whose generosity continues to enrich and sustain my artistic life.
Thank you forever.
About the Guest Author: Dr. Anita Vallabh is a Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and teacher from Chennai, India. She was trained in the classical traditions by Smt. Shanta and Sri. V.P. Dhananjayan. She was the recipient of the National Award for the Best Dancer (1992-1993) from the National Hindi Academy, Calcutta, and was conferred the title of “Kala Bharati”. Vallabh received a Ph.D. from the University of Madras in 2002 and has performed internationally throughout Asia, Europe and the United States. She is the Creative Director the Chennai-based Aeka Academy, a holistic performing arts school established under the auspices of Vaels’ Group Of Institutions.
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.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La scholar-in-residence Thalia Kennedy.
As a scholar-in-residence at Shangri La in September 2011, and thanks to the generous support of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, I have been carrying out research into the context and creation of the ‘Mughal’ architectural features that now adorn Doris Duke’s bedroom suite in Hawai‘i. These luxurious decorative elements were ordered in 1935 during Doris Duke’s honeymoon. Following her marriage to James Cromwell in New York, the couple visited India as part of a 10-month world tour that would later take them to Hawai‘i, and to the future site of Shangri La at Black Point. The heiress commissioned artisans in the Indian city of Agra to create inlaid marble panels and carved screens based in the artisanal and design traditions of the Mughal court of northern India. The project was the first of a number for which Doris Duke engaged traditional artisans in India, Iran, Morocco and Pakistan, to complete decorative features at Shangri La.
In pursuit of this research, the residency at Shangri La afforded the opportunity for close study of the bedroom suite itself, and related archival material from which to build a picture of the circumstances that spurred the enterprise. Scrapbooks and letters that survive from the honeymoon, carefully conserved in the Shangri La Archive, document the visits and meetings the Cromwells attended on their tour, including their visit to the Taj Mahal, the known inspiration for the project.
The archives also inform the broader context of the commission’s genesis and give details of its completion and transportation to Shangri La. Amongst the photographs and newspaper clippings, I was interested to note a meeting in March 1935 between the couple and Mohandas K Gandhi at his ashram in Central India, around two weeks before the commission of the ‘Mughal’ architectural features. Given Gandhi’s own interests in rural and crafts industry revival, I was curious as to what impact the meeting may have had on the heiress and her own patronage of artisanal crafts; and, by establishing more clearly how far Gandhi’s own philosophy of crafts revival and support had developed at the time, what his message may have been to the newlyweds. I was also keen to find the original workshops and perhaps the families of artisans in Agra who had been involved in the project itself, and to identify and match further design prototypes for the final inlaid panels, from the Mughal buildings of Agra and Delhi. The original location of the overseeing architects’ offices at Connaught Place in Delhi was also of interest, together with information I might gather from the National Archives. Given these areas of research, I decided to visit India, to see what further information might be garnered in the sub-continent, and to build on my research and review of archival documents whilst resident at Shangri La.
My exploration took me in early December 2011 to Delhi, and thence to the site of the meeting with Gandhi, the town of Wardha in the Indian state of Maharashtra, 78 kilometers from the major city of Nagpur. Wardha occupies a central position in the subcontinent and, although journeys were long, in the 1930s the town was easily accessible from all regions by train. Today, the area is just an hour’s flight from Delhi. As I visited sites around the town, and talked with custodians and guides, it became clear that Wardha had been the central physical focus for Gandhi’s rural industry and crafts revival activities of the mid-1930s. In the latter part of 1934, following his leadership of several movements to free India from British rule, Gandhi resigned as leader of the Congress party, with a new vow to focus on the revival of rural industries and crafts as a solution to the plight of India’s poor and lowest castes. He moved his base to Wardha and, in the same year, inaugurated the All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) in the town’s district of Magan Wadi. The site of the Association was a building and some land appropriated to Gandhi by his supporter and disciple, the industrialist Jamanalal Bajaj. Its founding ethos was the support of villages and the promotion of craft industries as a viable means of addressing economic distress. The site at Magan Wadi remains significant today, now home to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialization (MGIRI) and the Magansangrahalaya Smriti Museum, and a focus for visiting artisans and academics. A number of further institutes and Gandhi’s later ashram outside Wardha actively continue and promote the various social initiatives and research begun at the time under his leadership.
On 16th March 1935, in what is now a Library at MGIRI, Doris Duke Cromwell and James Cromwell attended an audience with Gandhi, travelling by train from Bombay for the meeting. From his own writings of February and March 1935, at the time Gandhi was actively promoting his theories of crafts education and the importance of traditional hand labor and tools, writing of the numberless village and town crafts in need of public support, to allow poor artisans to sustain themselves through engagement with “creative handicrafts”. He was in regular attendance at crafts industry exhibitions, supported initiatives all over the sub-continent that were taking up his theories of crafts revival, and received formal political support from the Congress party under the new leadership of Jawarhalal Nehru. The encounter in 1935 between the Cromwells and Gandhi was not long, less than an hour of discussion, before the Mahatma returned to a convention of artisans being held that day at AIVIA.
Despite its brevity, the meeting had great impact on the young heiress. She compared Gandhi to the religious visionaries and figures of history, and was deeply impressed by his commitment to the position of women. The accompanying United Press reporter also recorded the group’s discussion of the importance of rural industry and traditional production methods in India, in contrast to the rapid industrialization and mass production taking place in the United States at the time. Gandhi impressed on the couple the significance of traditional crafts and manual tools for economic improvement and effective sustenance of India’s masses.
From Wardha, the Cromwells returned to Bombay by train before continuing on their tour to northern India, and to the historic capital of Agra, where they visited the great Mughal monuments of the city. Doris Duke was so overwhelmed by the Taj Mahal that she determined to have inlaid panels and screens that imitated those at the famed building made for her own bathroom suite.
She visited local workshops and spoke with artisans who still practiced their traditional hand manufacture. Given the subject of their discussion with Gandhi, was it mere coincidence that Doris Duke – inspired by the beauty of the Taj Mahal – herself then requested traditional artisans, skilled in the marble-carving and inlay industry for which Agra’s craftsmen are still famed, to complete a series of pieces? Was her decision influenced to some degree by the meeting with Gandhi and his message? My research and visit to Wardha did not uncover a specific recorded instruction from Gandhi to the Cromwells to carry out such an undertaking, nor is there reference to Gandhi in James Cromwell’s letters held at the Shangri La Archive. But my visit did make it clear that the Agra commission took place against the backdrop of a wider burgeoning crafts revival movement in the sub-continent, to which Doris Duke was clearly exposed, and which formed a clear part of Gandhi’s vision for an independent and self-sustaining India. The heiress was evidently very impressed with Gandhi and may have found his visionary promotion of crafts revival and rural industry at their meeting compelling. Newspaper reports in the United States over the next year made explicit reference to the commission as an effort to revitalize the dying crafts of India. Even from the pages of history, it is difficult to ignore Gandhi’s fervent belief in and promotion of crafts and rural industry revival as a potential solution to rural poverty, and to enrich a sense of positive artistic and national identity. The complex tapestry of circumstance must include some consideration of this meeting and its impact. And although Doris Duke’s own artistic vision was one of luxury and opulence – a far cry from the poverty of rural India – the support of artisans would likely have pleased the Mahatma, who wrote as early as 1919 that the rare industrial arts and handicrafts of India “merely require due recognition and encouragement”.
Following the Cromwells’ path, my own visit also took me then to the busy city of Agra, to discover information on the artisans and inlay workshops the couple encountered, and to explore the historic Mughal monuments they visited. From there, I returned to Delhi, to seek out Gandhi’s own writings in the National Archives and private libraries. And I was able to survey for a final time the opulent monuments of the emperor Shah Jahan’s great Mughal city of Shahjahanabad and identify further design prototypes for the Shangri La inlaid panels. Yielding good results in these quests, both in Agra and Delhi, I am now completing the full write-up of a paper, presenting my findings for submission to the Shangri La Working Papers in Islamic Art Series. The complex web of inspiration and circumstance that surrounds Doris Duke’s first commission as artisanal patron has led me from one side of the globe to another, from the tranquility of Shangri La and the Hawaiian islands, to the bustle of the cities of northern India. A trail that for Doris Duke, too, became a familiar pilgrimage as she pursued what became a lifelong fascination with the Indian sub-continent and its cultural history.
United Kingdom, January 2012
My grateful thanks to Deborah Pope and everyone who so kindly welcomed me at Shangri La, and to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in their generous sponsorship and support of this research and residency at Shangri La. My thanks also to Dr T Karunakaran, Mr Khushal and Miss Sushma for their kind reception at Wardha, and for showing me around the Institute and Museum buildings with such enthusiasm and generosity with their time.
About the Guest Author: Thalia Kennedy was a Scholar-in-Residence at Shangri La from September 4-27, 2011. Kennedy is the former Director of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture based in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is a specialist in Islamic and South Asian art and architecture and has held visiting lectureships at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and the School of Oriental & African Studies in London. While in residence at Shangri La, Kennedy conduct research on Shangri La’s Mughal Suite, commissioned in Delhi in 1935, and related collections, which will culminate in an academic paper on her findings. She also presented an illustrated public lecture The Mughal Bedroom Suite at Shangri La at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Doris Duke Theatre on September 18, 2011.