A Few of Our Favorite Things: Mosaic Tile Panel

Mosaic tile panel (48.93) in the central courtyard. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)
Mosaic tile panel (48.93) in the central courtyard. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i. (Photo: David Franzen, 2011.)

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.

The workshop that created the tile panel, Isfahan, Iran. March 20, 1939. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
The workshop that created the tile panel, Isfahan, Iran. March 20, 1939. Doris Duke Photograph Collection, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

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. 

Jali Pavilion Reinstallation: Part 2

The first cast elements going into place, December 4, 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).
The first cast elements going into place, December 4, 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).

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.

Fitting arches, columns and smaller components. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).
Fitting arches, columns and smaller components. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).

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.

Left: Testing the fit of a marble panel. Right: Casting a redesigned column. Long stainless steel rods pass through the white tubes, anchoring the column to the roof.     Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).
Left: Testing the fit of a marble panel. Right: Casting a redesigned column. Long stainless steel rods pass through the white tubes, anchoring the column to the roof.
Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).

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 roof line as it appeared during the holidays, with some smoothly finished arches, round columns and finials in place. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).
The roof line as it appeared during the holidays, with some smoothly finished arches, round columns and finials in place. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).

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.

Work on the Jali Pavilion resumes, January 4, 2013. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).
Work on the Jali Pavilion resumes, January 4, 2013. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i (Photo: Kent Severson).

 

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.)