If anyone were curious about what the thermostatic mixing valve in the Playhouse is made of, who the Mughal Garden fountain spigots were purchased from, or what kind of wood Moroccan artisans used for the living room and foyer ceilings, chances are, we’ve got the answers (white metal-plated copper alloy, Novelty Foundry, and painted cedar, respectively). The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art is extremely fortunate to have such detailed information about the house and its collections—and we have the Shangri La managers and recordkeepers, from 1936 onward, to thank.
As an archivist, I’m very interested in recordkeeping. In fact, it’s my job to ensure that researchers can not only find information contained in records, but that they can also understand how and why those records were originally created and maintained.
It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite thing at Shangri La is an item from the archives. It’s a logbook kept from 1939 to 1944, and it records items received by and sent from Shangri La. The arrival of important collections items—the Syrian mother-of-pearl chests Doris Duke (1912–93) purchased from Asfar & Sarkis (65.46), the Persian tomb cover purchased from Hagop Kevorkian in 1940 (48.348), and the Spanish luster plates purchased from the William Randolph Hearst sales (e.g., 48.114)—are recorded here, along with the arrival of more utilitarian items like books, shoes, and three rubber raincoats for use on Doris Duke’s yacht. The departure of important objects, like the Guanyin statue shipped from Shangri La to Duke Farms in January 1941 to make room for the newly acquired Veramin mihrab (48.327), is recorded here as well.
Logbooks like this one (records such as these were kept intermittently through the 1980s) help us to understand an object’s provenance and acquisition. Historical photographs, dealer invoices and correspondence, and shipping and insurance receipts all offer partial information about how and when objects were purchased. The logbooks, because they confirm the receipt of objects and usually indicate the date and dealer or country of origin, are very important pieces of this puzzle.
What’s more, this particular logbook functions as a chronicle of the collection during a very important period of its development—the period following Doris Duke’s 1938 trip to the Middle East. Just about every two weeks, shipments of objects, textiles and furniture from dealers and galleries were received at Shangri La. Collections objects were almost as often leaving Shangri La, to be shipped to one of Doris Duke’s other properties, or to be sent out for repair, fumigation or other conservation treatment.
Since records of Doris Duke articulating her collecting objectives and vision are relatively scarce, we rely on evidence like this to figure out what she may have been thinking. For example, we can trace in archival and curatorial records how Duke’s needs and tastes as a collector changed over time—how she began by collecting practical objects that could be used at Shangri La, then became more discerning, developing concerted interests in Ilkhanid Persian tilework, Qajar Persian art, and late Ottoman Syrian interiors and furnishings, among other subjects.
Keeping good records is also a part of our responsibility as stewards of these objects—indeed, documenting collections is part of the American Association of Museums’ code of ethics. In short, the more information we can gather about the DDFIA collection, the better we can understand and care for them!
NOTE: This logbook will likely be displayed in the next exhibit case installation in Shangri La’s Damascus Room, the one area onsite where visitors can view such important archival items.
The following is a guest post by Shangri La scholar-in-residence Thalia Kennedy.
As a scholar-in-residence at Shangri La in September 2011, and thanks to the generous support of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, I have been carrying out research into the context and creation of the ‘Mughal’ architectural features that now adorn Doris Duke’s bedroom suite in Hawai‘i. These luxurious decorative elements were ordered in 1935 during Doris Duke’s honeymoon. Following her marriage to James Cromwell in New York, the couple visited India as part of a 10-month world tour that would later take them to Hawai‘i, and to the future site of Shangri La at Black Point. The heiress commissioned artisans in the Indian city of Agra to create inlaid marble panels and carved screens based in the artisanal and design traditions of the Mughal court of northern India. The project was the first of a number for which Doris Duke engaged traditional artisans in India, Iran, Morocco and Pakistan, to complete decorative features at Shangri La.
In pursuit of this research, the residency at Shangri La afforded the opportunity for close study of the bedroom suite itself, and related archival material from which to build a picture of the circumstances that spurred the enterprise. Scrapbooks and letters that survive from the honeymoon, carefully conserved in the Shangri La Archive, document the visits and meetings the Cromwells attended on their tour, including their visit to the Taj Mahal, the known inspiration for the project.
The archives also inform the broader context of the commission’s genesis and give details of its completion and transportation to Shangri La. Amongst the photographs and newspaper clippings, I was interested to note a meeting in March 1935 between the couple and Mohandas K Gandhi at his ashram in Central India, around two weeks before the commission of the ‘Mughal’ architectural features. Given Gandhi’s own interests in rural and crafts industry revival, I was curious as to what impact the meeting may have had on the heiress and her own patronage of artisanal crafts; and, by establishing more clearly how far Gandhi’s own philosophy of crafts revival and support had developed at the time, what his message may have been to the newlyweds. I was also keen to find the original workshops and perhaps the families of artisans in Agra who had been involved in the project itself, and to identify and match further design prototypes for the final inlaid panels, from the Mughal buildings of Agra and Delhi. The original location of the overseeing architects’ offices at Connaught Place in Delhi was also of interest, together with information I might gather from the National Archives. Given these areas of research, I decided to visit India, to see what further information might be garnered in the sub-continent, and to build on my research and review of archival documents whilst resident at Shangri La.
My exploration took me in early December 2011 to Delhi, and thence to the site of the meeting with Gandhi, the town of Wardha in the Indian state of Maharashtra, 78 kilometers from the major city of Nagpur. Wardha occupies a central position in the subcontinent and, although journeys were long, in the 1930s the town was easily accessible from all regions by train. Today, the area is just an hour’s flight from Delhi. As I visited sites around the town, and talked with custodians and guides, it became clear that Wardha had been the central physical focus for Gandhi’s rural industry and crafts revival activities of the mid-1930s. In the latter part of 1934, following his leadership of several movements to free India from British rule, Gandhi resigned as leader of the Congress party, with a new vow to focus on the revival of rural industries and crafts as a solution to the plight of India’s poor and lowest castes. He moved his base to Wardha and, in the same year, inaugurated the All-India Village Industries Association (AIVIA) in the town’s district of Magan Wadi. The site of the Association was a building and some land appropriated to Gandhi by his supporter and disciple, the industrialist Jamanalal Bajaj. Its founding ethos was the support of villages and the promotion of craft industries as a viable means of addressing economic distress. The site at Magan Wadi remains significant today, now home to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialization (MGIRI) and the Magansangrahalaya Smriti Museum, and a focus for visiting artisans and academics. A number of further institutes and Gandhi’s later ashram outside Wardha actively continue and promote the various social initiatives and research begun at the time under his leadership.
On 16th March 1935, in what is now a Library at MGIRI, Doris Duke Cromwell and James Cromwell attended an audience with Gandhi, travelling by train from Bombay for the meeting. From his own writings of February and March 1935, at the time Gandhi was actively promoting his theories of crafts education and the importance of traditional hand labor and tools, writing of the numberless village and town crafts in need of public support, to allow poor artisans to sustain themselves through engagement with “creative handicrafts”. He was in regular attendance at crafts industry exhibitions, supported initiatives all over the sub-continent that were taking up his theories of crafts revival, and received formal political support from the Congress party under the new leadership of Jawarhalal Nehru. The encounter in 1935 between the Cromwells and Gandhi was not long, less than an hour of discussion, before the Mahatma returned to a convention of artisans being held that day at AIVIA.
Despite its brevity, the meeting had great impact on the young heiress. She compared Gandhi to the religious visionaries and figures of history, and was deeply impressed by his commitment to the position of women. The accompanying United Press reporter also recorded the group’s discussion of the importance of rural industry and traditional production methods in India, in contrast to the rapid industrialization and mass production taking place in the United States at the time. Gandhi impressed on the couple the significance of traditional crafts and manual tools for economic improvement and effective sustenance of India’s masses.
From Wardha, the Cromwells returned to Bombay by train before continuing on their tour to northern India, and to the historic capital of Agra, where they visited the great Mughal monuments of the city. Doris Duke was so overwhelmed by the Taj Mahal that she determined to have inlaid panels and screens that imitated those at the famed building made for her own bathroom suite.
She visited local workshops and spoke with artisans who still practiced their traditional hand manufacture. Given the subject of their discussion with Gandhi, was it mere coincidence that Doris Duke – inspired by the beauty of the Taj Mahal – herself then requested traditional artisans, skilled in the marble-carving and inlay industry for which Agra’s craftsmen are still famed, to complete a series of pieces? Was her decision influenced to some degree by the meeting with Gandhi and his message? My research and visit to Wardha did not uncover a specific recorded instruction from Gandhi to the Cromwells to carry out such an undertaking, nor is there reference to Gandhi in James Cromwell’s letters held at the Shangri La Archive. But my visit did make it clear that the Agra commission took place against the backdrop of a wider burgeoning crafts revival movement in the sub-continent, to which Doris Duke was clearly exposed, and which formed a clear part of Gandhi’s vision for an independent and self-sustaining India. The heiress was evidently very impressed with Gandhi and may have found his visionary promotion of crafts revival and rural industry at their meeting compelling. Newspaper reports in the United States over the next year made explicit reference to the commission as an effort to revitalize the dying crafts of India. Even from the pages of history, it is difficult to ignore Gandhi’s fervent belief in and promotion of crafts and rural industry revival as a potential solution to rural poverty, and to enrich a sense of positive artistic and national identity. The complex tapestry of circumstance must include some consideration of this meeting and its impact. And although Doris Duke’s own artistic vision was one of luxury and opulence – a far cry from the poverty of rural India – the support of artisans would likely have pleased the Mahatma, who wrote as early as 1919 that the rare industrial arts and handicrafts of India “merely require due recognition and encouragement”.
Following the Cromwells’ path, my own visit also took me then to the busy city of Agra, to discover information on the artisans and inlay workshops the couple encountered, and to explore the historic Mughal monuments they visited. From there, I returned to Delhi, to seek out Gandhi’s own writings in the National Archives and private libraries. And I was able to survey for a final time the opulent monuments of the emperor Shah Jahan’s great Mughal city of Shahjahanabad and identify further design prototypes for the Shangri La inlaid panels. Yielding good results in these quests, both in Agra and Delhi, I am now completing the full write-up of a paper, presenting my findings for submission to the Shangri La Working Papers in Islamic Art Series. The complex web of inspiration and circumstance that surrounds Doris Duke’s first commission as artisanal patron has led me from one side of the globe to another, from the tranquility of Shangri La and the Hawaiian islands, to the bustle of the cities of northern India. A trail that for Doris Duke, too, became a familiar pilgrimage as she pursued what became a lifelong fascination with the Indian sub-continent and its cultural history.
United Kingdom, January 2012
My grateful thanks to Deborah Pope and everyone who so kindly welcomed me at Shangri La, and to the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art in their generous sponsorship and support of this research and residency at Shangri La. My thanks also to Dr T Karunakaran, Mr Khushal and Miss Sushma for their kind reception at Wardha, and for showing me around the Institute and Museum buildings with such enthusiasm and generosity with their time.
About the Guest Author: Thalia Kennedy was a Scholar-in-Residence at Shangri La from September 4-27, 2011. Kennedy is the former Director of the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture based in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is a specialist in Islamic and South Asian art and architecture and has held visiting lectureships at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and the School of Oriental & African Studies in London. While in residence at Shangri La, Kennedy conduct research on Shangri La’s Mughal Suite, commissioned in Delhi in 1935, and related collections, which will culminate in an academic paper on her findings. She also presented an illustrated public lecture The Mughal Bedroom Suite at Shangri La at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Doris Duke Theatre on September 18, 2011.
Following an international search, The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art welcomed Keelan Overton into the position of curator of Islamic art at Shangri La on June 27. I am so pleased to have Keelan join our staff. She is a very thoughtful and well-regarded young scholar who is passionate about the educational role museums play in today’s society—especially at a time when we all need to have a better understanding of the Muslim world.
Keelan will be responsible for the research, interpretation, and display of Shangri La’s collection, which includes more than 3,500 pieces of Islamic art. She will also develop programs to enhance Shangri La’s role as a center for education, scholarly research, and exchange. We’re looking forward to helping her plan exhibitions, residencies for scholars and artists, educational outreach programs, and occasional symposia and publications.
Even though Keelan has only been here for a little over two months, she has adjusted quickly and really hit the ground running! She says she’s “very pleased to be back at Shangri La and grateful to once again be surrounded by the Aloha spirit. This is a very exciting moment for the institution, and I am currently focusing my efforts on exhibitions planning, guide training, and increasing Shangri La’s exposure within the international community of Islamic art history.”
Keelan holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles (2011) and a master’s degree in Art History from Williams College in Massachusetts (2004). She is also no stranger to Shangri La. She first came here as an intern in 2003 and returned as assistant curator from 2004 to 2005. Keelan has since worked as a research assistant in the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and as an instructor and teaching assistant at UCLA. She is the recipient of a University of California President’s Fellowship and a Theodore Rousseau Fellowship from the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which supported extensive travel and research in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and India.
We are delighted to open The Door to Shangri La and welcome you inside. Like many museums and arts centers, we do so much of our work out of the public eye- in part because of our location in the middle of the Pacific, in a residential neighborhood with limited access; and in part because research, collections care, and conservation by their very nature take place “behind the scenes.” We welcome the opportunity the internet provides for us to open our doors to wider audiences, to share our work, and to broaden our horizons. Frequent blog posts will focus on new research, visiting artists and scholars, events onsite and in the community, and the latest surprises revealed by ongoing conservation work.
When Doris Duke first wrote the codicil to her will calling for Shangri La to become a place for the study and understanding of Islamic art, she clearly envisioned the preservation and opening of her home and collections for educational programs. She may not have foreseen the power of the internet to bring Shangri La and its cultural assets to homes, schools, and workplaces around the world, but it is in the spirit of her vision that we launch The Door to Shangri La, expand our website and broaden our partnerships. I hope you enjoy this encounter with Islamic art, visit our blog often, and share this site with friends who may be interested in learning more about our research, conservation, and programs.