Shangri La conjures up images of a mythical paradise in the Himalayas. Philanthropist Doris Duke named her home in Hawaii Shangri La, after the fictional place in James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizons”.
By Mary Brennan Gerster
Shangri La conjures up images of a mythical paradise in the Himalayas. Philanthropist Doris Duke named her home in Hawaii Shangri La, after the fictional place in James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizons”. For the first time, some of the treasures collected by Duke for her home are traveling and are in an exhibition currently at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD).
Large-scale photographs of the home and its interiors by Tim Street-Porter create a true sense of the serenity and warmth of this paradisiacal vacation home Duke stayed at for several months every year until her death in 1993. You also see the privacy the home provided for a woman haunted by paparazzi before that word existed. She was left the richest little girl in the world when her father, tobacco and energy baron John Buchanan Duke, died in 1925 when Doris was just 12 years old. She inherited an estate worth $100 million.
Shangri La was the end result of a honeymoon journey with husband James Cromwell through most Middle Eastern countries. Throughout her life, she continued to visit Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, and India, and was enamored with their culture, history, and art.
The last stop on their honeymoon was Hawaii, where they stayed for four months. In April 1936, she purchased a 4.9-acre parcel on a promontory in Diamond Head just outside Honolulu. She hired architect Marion Sims Wyeth (1889-1982) to create a home reflecting her unique vision of combining the Pan Asian style with a modern one to take advantage of the spectacular location and views. Wyeth (a man, not a woman as I first thought) had designed Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach for Marjorie Merriwether Post. (The estate was later owned by “the Donald” and Marla Trump).
The property has three buildings and incorporates 14,000 square feet. The Playhouse, where artists-in-residence stay, is a small version of Chehel Sotoun, a 17th century Iranian building. In 2004, the Doris Duke Foundation began welcoming contemporary artists to study and create on site. The works of six of these artists are included in the exhibition.
Iranian-born artist Afruz Amighi (1974-) created
The artist whose work I am searching to find more of is Shahzia Sikander. Born in Pakistan in 1969, he trained as a miniaturist painter. He created a captivating video/montage with photographs of the Shangri La property at night overlaid with calligraphy, patterns, drawings, and text. It is exquisite and haunting.
Doris Duke was a woman ahead of her time and very different from most of the wealthy debutantes and heiress of the era. She was a supporter of Roosevelt and the New Deal when her social counterparts were not. She was an ardent environmentalist and supported AIDS research when the subject was taboo. It should also be noted that Cary Grant was among her seven husbands.
The exhibition gives us just a taste of the 2,500 objects from her home and includes drawings of the plans for the building and photographs and movies of the construction. Duke did not keep a diary, but included in the show are scrapbooks that hold many a story of her life. There are also photographs from Afghanistan and Iran of the craftsman making the pieces she commissioned.
Upon her death in 1993, her estate funded many organizations. The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art left Shangri La and her collection to promote “understanding of Muslim Societies through the Arts and media.” Shangri La opened to the public in 2002 as a center for Islamic Arts and culture. Upon enjoying this exhibition, a trip to Hawaii and Shangri La may be on many a bucket list.
While you are in the museum, visit the 6th floor where artists-in-residence are usually working. Then head up to the 9th floor and have lunch or dinner at Roberts and enjoy lunch or dinner with the most spectacular views up Broadway.
Stop in the gift shop, one of the best in the city, where former Rye resident Tabbatha Henry has created beautiful porcelain luminaries.
Doris Duke’s Shangri La is at the Museum of Arts and Design through February 17. The museum, located at 2 Columbus Circle, is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday and Friday until 9 p.m. Pay what you wish on Fridays. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.