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 following is a guest post by Shangri La guides Susan Berg and Miki Yamashiro.
Susan Berg: Hey Miki, Shangri La guides were asked to do a blog on one of their favorite pieces at Shangri La. Want to try?
Miki Yamashiro: Sue Berg, what are you getting me into now? But sure, there are so many things I love about Shangri La—how do we pick just one?
Sue: What in the collection really draws your attention?
Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to have attended the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in Washington, DC. The sessions were great, the weather was atypically pleasant, and it “just happened” to be restaurant week (thanks, SAA organizers!)—all in all, a memorable combination.
Before the conference even began, I attended an Electronic Records and Museum Archives Symposium hosted by SAA’s Museum Archives Sections’ Standards and Best Practices Working Group, of which I am a member. Like archivists in other types of institutions, museum archivists are receiving more and more born-digital material—often times on obsolete media (remember zip disks?) and/or in obsolete formats (Kodak photo CD files—ugh!). Much of this material documents important museum functions, and, as such, merits long-term preservation. But once we figure out how to read the files, how do we provide access to them and ensure that they are not altered?
At the symposium, archivists from a variety of museums shared what they were doing to manage their born-digital records. Strategies ranged from implementing commercial digital repository systems to using in-house expertise to customize open-source implementations to outsourcing to using a variety of free utilities to begin managing e-records. Like these other institutions, Shangri La is also dealing with the challenges of born-digital materials, so it was especially helpful to see the wide range of tools and strategies available to us.
During the conference itself, I attended sessions relating to web archiving, records management, and born digital records. I was especially interested in the web archiving sessions because Shangri La has recently expanded its social media presence, and we want to find ways of preserving and providing access to these records, which document our outreach efforts and what is essentially our “public face.”
Though SAA is a national organization, some sessions addressed issues that were international in scope. Members of the collective Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, for example, reported on their 2013 trip to meet with Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, and on their formation of a network of information professionals committed to speaking out against the destruction of Palestinian libraries, archives, and other cultural property.
All in all, I learned a ton and left feeling energized by the great work my colleagues are doing. (And the goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry sauce wasn’t too shabby either!)
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!
Nick and Nicole
Visitors to Shangri La love to pose with the two smiling stone camels (41.145.1-2) on either side of the front door. Even Doris Duke is known to have taken a photo or two with these camels. Here she is in 1939, posing with Sam Kahanamoku.
Originally from 18th-century China, the two camels were purchased right here in Honolulu, from high-end furniture retailer S. & G. Gump Company. The Gump’s store was located on Kalākaua Avenue, where the Louis Vuitton store is currently located, and the camels (or replicas of the camels—we’re not quite sure) were displayed on either side of their door, too. In March 1939, when construction on Shangri La was wrapping up, Doris Duke purchased the camels and installed them in her entry courtyard, where they’ve been ever since.
Fun fact: Also purchased from Gump’s were the two stone horses at the entrance to the Honolulu Museum of Art.
In this blog entry, Kathryn Harada shares a bit about her experience as a conservation intern at Shangri La. Since April 2012, Kat has helped us to care for our collection of Islamic Art, while gaining experience that will help prepare her for a graduate program in conservation. Kat graduated from Smith College in 2008 with degrees in art history and Italian. She worked in the conservation lab at Smith College Museum of Art and interned at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ furniture conservation lab before moving to Honolulu to apprentice in a furniture restoration studio. (To learn more about training opportunities at Shangri La visit our website.)
Working as a conservation intern at Shangri La has been an amazing opportunity to gain experience in the conservation of a variety of materials and objects. My projects have ranged from helping to prepare the marble jali screens for their restoration and reinstallation; to cleaning a gold ewer (57.5) dated to the early first millennium BC; to conserving a variety of glass, jade, metal, and ceramic objects.
Earlier this year, I completed a conservation treatment for a 12th–13th-century tabouret (48.297) on view in the Mihrab Room. This object had undergone extensive restoration, probably to ready it for sale in the art market of the 1940s. There were several plaster-of-Paris fills bridging the gaps between fragments of ceramic. The detailed painting that camouflaged the fill areas with the original ceramic had discolored over time. The adhesive holding all the pieces together had also begun to deteriorate. Over the course of several months, I set to work removing the old paint and as much of the old adhesive as possible. I re-shaped some areas of fill, and I finished by touching in some color to blend the fills with the ceramic.
Currently, I am working on a series of objects that are being considered for display in the Mughal Suite. Among these objects, there is a group of ceremonial daggers and swords, from which my next project will be pulled. These are complicated objects, consisting of several different materials—e.g., jade, hard stones, wood, textiles, and various metals—each with its own set of conservation challenges.
One of my other responsibilities as a conservation intern is to assist with the weekly cleaning and maintenance of the objects on display. Shangri La’s proximity to the ocean, the lovely Hawaiian breezes, and the open architectural design of the house work together to guarantee that the objects get a daily dose of salt and dirt that could be potentially harmful to their longevity. I am learning so much about preventative conservation from this weekly maintenance routine.
I am so fortunate to be a part of keeping Doris Duke’s vision alive and helping to make sure that her collection can continue to inspire and educate those who come to see it. My experience working here will provide a strong foundation as I continue to pursue a career in art conservation.
In this blog entry, we are pleased to introduce Christian Galiza, our stellar summer volunteer, who will be a senior at Campbell High School this fall. At Campbell, Christian studies Arabic language through the OneWorld Now! program. He and his classmates have visited Shangri La several times, and last summer they travelled to Morocco to study Arabic for three weeks.
While volunteering with us, Christian rehoused collections photographs, scanned archival materials, transcribed guide questions, and even did some work with calligraphic cartouches. We can’t thank him enough for his excellent work and pleasant (and funny!) company. Before he left for China (on another study trip with OneWorld Now!), Christian took a moment to tell us a little about his studies and his trip to Morocco last year:
Some of the subjects many of my friends study include Spanish, French, and Japanese. There are more people in the world who speak Arabic than Japanese and French combined. So where is Arabic in the curriculum? Most high schools almost never offer Arabic language in their language departments. In fact, less than 1% of high school students in the United States study Arabic language. One of the ideas behind the OneWorld Now! program is to break down the barriers between Americans and the world by creating leaders that will learn foreign languages and then apply their leadership skills while traveling abroad. I think that if we do this, then the world would stop abiding by their stereotypes and unite with one another.
Although the desire for studying Arabic hadn’t even passed my mind when I came to high school, my attention to this language and leadership program helps me want to take a more unique approach to my high school career. I think of Arabic as a very interesting and enjoyable language to learn. Arabic dialects are different in each Arabic-speaking country, so the language is paired with a culture that is unique in its own way, honoring traditions that date back thousands of years.
Although it was just three weeks, my trip to Morocco was definitely a life changing experience. The main purpose of my trip was to study Moroccan Arabic. Although most days we studied in the classroom for three hours, we would be cut loose after the scheduled activities. We had to find ways to get to school, and do our own shopping without much supervision. To make it an even more authentic experience, we lived alongside host families so we could see the day in the life of a Moroccan.
Two other high school students from Seattle were living with me, along with eight host family members: parents, two twin sisters, another sister, and three brothers in one huge home. I got along with them extremely well and felt that I lucked out from the rest of my group, many of whom stayed in smaller, compact, old flats just above the noise of the markets in an area in the medina that never sleeps. In my family, the sisters had iPhones. Despite our language barriers, we bonded through sharing pictures and playing wireless multiplayer games from the App Store. These bonding times happened at around midnight, after dinner which was usually served at around 11:15 pm. Moroccans refuse to let people go on anything less than a full stomach, and go hours and hours exchanging stories through gestures and laughing at each other.
Some of my favorite traditions were couscous Fridays, during which a large dish was served with couscous, loads of vegetables, and some chicken or lamb. These were called tagines. These dishes can be expensive and time-consuming to prepare, but are specially made and served to guests regardless of how little or how much they made that week. Hot mint tea with 60% sugar was served daily, many servings coming from people whom I didn’t know at all and were excited to meet a foreigner.
Morocco’s capital city, Rabat, was bustling with the noises and smells of the medina and the sounds of rush hour in the downtown area just outside of my school. During specific times during the days and nights, extremely loud speakers would announce the prayer call from the mosques on every block. Despite the seemingly inconvenient times, all business would suddenly freeze. People would pull out their rugs in direction of Mecca or rush to the mosque and start praying. This routine got extremely strict during Ramadan, when everyone was fasting.
Morocco is a very modern place that refuses to let go of its original roots. It’s been very Westernised by the Europeans. French is an official business language and so it is spoken all the time. McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken sit alongside a Chinese restaurant whose owners are Moroccan. These restaurants sit next door to older parts of the city. There is a mix of people who have a great sense of Western popular fashion, but some dress conservatively. And everybody seemed totally fine with that.
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.
If anyone were curious about what the thermostatic mixing valve in the Playhouse is made of, who the Mughal Garden fountain spigots were purchased from, or what kind of wood Moroccan artisans used for the living room and foyer ceilings, chances are, we’ve got the answers (white metal-plated copper alloy, Novelty Foundry, and painted cedar, respectively). The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is extremely fortunate to have such detailed information about the house and its collections—and we have the Shangri La managers and recordkeepers, from 1936 onward, to thank.
As an archivist, I’m very interested in recordkeeping. In fact, it’s my job to ensure that researchers can not only find information contained in records, but that they can also understand how and why those records were originally created and maintained.
It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite thing at Shangri La is an item from the archives. It’s a logbook kept from 1939 to 1944, and it records items received by and sent from Shangri La. The arrival of important collections items—the Syrian mother-of-pearl chests Doris Duke (1912–93) purchased from Asfar & Sarkis (65.46), the Persian tomb cover purchased from Hagop Kevorkian in 1940 (48.348), and the Spanish luster plates purchased from the William Randolph Hearst sales (e.g., 48.114)—are recorded here, along with the arrival of more utilitarian items like books, shoes, and three rubber raincoats for use on Doris Duke’s yacht. The departure of important objects, like the Guanyin statue shipped from Shangri La to Duke Farms in January 1941 to make room for the newly acquired Veramin mihrab (48.327), is recorded here as well.
Logbooks like this one (records such as these were kept intermittently through the 1980s) help us to understand an object’s provenance and acquisition. Historical photographs, dealer invoices and correspondence, and shipping and insurance receipts all offer partial information about how and when objects were purchased. The logbooks, because they confirm the receipt of objects and usually indicate the date and dealer or country of origin, are very important pieces of this puzzle.
What’s more, this particular logbook functions as a chronicle of the collection during a very important period of its development—the period following Doris Duke’s 1938 trip to the Middle East. Just about every two weeks, shipments of objects, textiles and furniture from dealers and galleries were received at Shangri La. Collections objects were almost as often leaving Shangri La, to be shipped to one of Doris Duke’s other properties, or to be sent out for repair, fumigation or other conservation treatment.
Since records of Doris Duke articulating her collecting objectives and vision are relatively scarce, we rely on evidence like this to figure out what she may have been thinking. For example, we can trace in archival and curatorial records how Duke’s needs and tastes as a collector changed over time—how she began by collecting practical objects that could be used at Shangri La, then became more discerning, developing concerted interests in Ilkhanid Persian tilework, Qajar Persian art, and late Ottoman Syrian interiors and furnishings, among other subjects.
Keeping good records is also a part of our responsibility as stewards of these objects—indeed, documenting collections is part of the American Association of Museums’ code of ethics. In short, the more information we can gather about the DDFIA collection, the better we can understand and care for them!
NOTE: This logbook will likely be displayed in the next exhibit case installation in Shangri La’s Damascus Room, the one area onsite where visitors can view such important archival items.