Conservation in Paradise

Small Syrian Room. © 2014, Linny Morris, courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Small Syrian Room. © 2014, Linny Morris, courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

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.

Nick Pedemonti consolidating flaking paint on the ceiling of the small Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Nicole Peters, 2014.)
Nick Pedemonti consolidating flaking paint on the ceiling of the small Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai’i. (Photo: Nicole Peters, 2014.)

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.

Nicole Peters applying fill material around the newly attached forearm of a late 19th/early 20th century Krishna sculpture from Rajasthan, India (#41.140). (Photo: Nick Pedemonti, 2014.)
Nicole Peters applying fill material around the newly attached forearm of a late 19th/early 20th century Krishna sculpture from Rajasthan, India (#41.140). (Photo: Nick Pedemonti, 2014.)

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!

Mahalo!

Nick and Nicole

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).

 

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.)