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.

Pelin Esmer in Honolulu

Although Hawai‘i, as a crossroads between the United States, Asia, and the Pacific, is a very cosmopolitan place, it is rare to find connections to Turkish culture—and visitors from Turkey are even rarer. Shangri La was pleased to host Turkish filmmaker Pelin Esmer for a five-day residency January 10–14, 2014.

Esmer arrived on January 10 from snow-bound Idaho, the previous stop on her lecture tour. She seemed shocked as she emerged from Honolulu International Airport into the blazing sunshine and warmth. She was delighted to learn that her hotel sat on the beach in Waikīkī, and was able to add a daily swim to her busy schedule.

Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Pelin Esmer gives a talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Esmer’s first public presentation was on January 11—an afternoon talk at Shangri La about her experiences as a filmmaker. The talk was moderated by Dr. Vilsoni Hereniko, an award-winning Fijian filmmaker and professor of film at the University of Hawai‘i. That evening, Esmer introduced a screening of her award-winning film Watchtower at the Honolulu Museum of Art and answered questions from the audience following the film.

Esmer also gave a presentation and screened film clips to students enrolled in Global Studies classes at James Campbell High School in ‘Ewa Beach, which gave her a chance to experience O‘ahu’s more rural settings. The students enjoyed her clips and comments, and had many questions for her about how she writes the stories for her films, about how she gets her films made, and about everyday life for people in Turkey. Her presentation at Campbell High School was co-sponsored by the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, a Honolulu-based organization with a mission to promote greater awareness and understanding of international affairs and to strengthen Hawai‘i’s role in the Asia/Pacific Region.

Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.
Pelin Esmer with students from James Campbell High School.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

In every presentation, Pelin Esmer clearly demonstrated that her stories about life, everyday problems, and the complexities of human emotions resonate with people worldwide. Those who were lucky enough to attend her events are already asking when she will return to Honolulu. Shangri La staff are grateful to Caravanserai for helping us bring such a wonderful and talented filmmaker to Hawai‘i. We hope that the transition from Honolulu to Anchorage, Esmer’s next stop, won’t be too much of a shock for her!