Shangri La’s Moroccan Treasures Surprise Moroccan Delegation

Governor Neil Abercrombie and Moroccan Ambassador to the U.S. Rachad Bouhlal. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)
Minister of Youth and Sport Mohamed Ouzzine and President of the Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer Region Abdelkebir Berkia. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)

From November 28 through December 2, 2012, a 70-member delegation of Moroccan diplomats, academics, musicians, artists and journalists visited Honolulu for the signing of a sister state agreement between the State of Hawai‘i and Morocco’s Greater Region of Rabat-Sale-Zenmour-Zaer. Designed to open doors to long-term collaborations in education, culture, tourism, environment and business, the agreement was commemorated with a weeklong series of Moroccan cultural, educational and economic events in Honolulu. These included a handicraft exhibition; a Forum on the Advancement of Women’s Rights, Major Political Reforms and Economic Modernization in Morocco; and the inauguration of a traditional fountain gifted by the Moroccan government to the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. On December 1, Shangri La hosted a special evening reception for members of the delegation, who were surprised and delighted to encounter many fine examples of Moroccan visual culture embedded throughout the historic house.

Moroccan craftsmen making the living room’s carved and painted ceiling, c. 1937–38. Shangri La Historical Archives, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Indeed, Shangri La has deep connections to Morocco—and to Rabat in particular. In May 1937, Doris Duke and her husband James Cromwell traveled to Morocco, then a French Protectorate, where they visited Marrakesh, Rabat, Fedala (now Muhammadia) and most likely Tangiers. There, they viewed the traditional Moroccan crafts of zellij tilework, carved and painted wood ceilings, carved and turned wood screens (mashrabiyya), colored-glass windows (chemmassiat), and carved plasterwork. Thousands of miles away, the construction of Shangri La was already well underway.

Their time in Morocco must have left quite an impression on the couple. Before returning to the U.S., they traveled to Antibes, where they met René Martin, proprietor of the Rabat-based firm S.A.L.A.M. René Martin. From Martin, they commissioned custom-made architectural features for the foyer, living room, central courtyard, and James Cromwell’s bedroom (known as the Moroccan Room). These features included painted and carved ceilings, a fireplace mantel, tall doors, a headboard, stucco friezes and spandrels, balustrades, wood screens, colored-glass windows, and turquoise green roof tiles of the type used in the Great Mosque in Paris. The work was carried out by Moroccan craftsmen—specialists in wood and stucco—based in Rabat and Fez. The commissioned work arrived in Honolulu in September 1938, and was installed in December 1938, just in time for the Cromwells to move in.

Left: The living room at Shangri La, with stucco friezes and spandrels and wood ceiling, doors, and screens commissioned from the Rabat-based firm S.A.L.A.M. René Martin. Right: Detail of the living room ceiling. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photos: David Franzen, 2011, 2003.)
Executive Director of Shangri La Deborah Pope and Secretary General Driss Guerraoui. (Photo: John Chisholm, 2012.)

During the December 1 event, two Moroccan television networks filmed interviews with Shangri La’s executive director Deborah Pope in the foyer and living room, giving Moroccan television audiences a chance to enjoy the beauty of Shangri La’s holdings in situ.

The weeklong series of events uncovered more connections between Hawaiian and Moroccan cultures.  “Amazing similarities,” said Hakim Ouansafi, the festival event chairman, who was born and raised in Morocco but has lived in Hawai‘i for 15 years. “In Morocco, they call it ‘salam.’ And if you truly translate it, it is aloha. It is the sense of family, all-togetherness.” Just as Hawai‘i is the gateway to the Asia-Pacific region, Morocco is a bridge to Europe, Africa and the Arab world. When Doris Duke originally conceived Shangri La as a synthesis of Islamic and Hawaiian architectural styles and cultural influences, little did she know that 76 years later the State of Hawai‘i and Morocco would envision and eventually forge a similar cultural exchange.

Jali Pavilion Reinstallation


Doris Duke and James Cromwell in the Jali Pavilion, 1939. Photo by Martin Munkácsi. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

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.

The crated panels stored on the tennis court, 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)

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.

Linda Gue making small repairs, April 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)

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.

The marble panels being reassembled at the Spectra workshop, October 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)

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.

Newly cast elements ready for shipping, October 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)

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.

The crane emerging from the trees with another crate, November 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)

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.

Unpacking cast elements on Tuesday afternoon, November 27, 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i. (Photo: Kent Severson.)