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.