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Exhibition at the Norton Museum illustrates philanthropist's passion for Islamic Art
Hand mirror, Northern India, nineteenth century. Jade, gold, gemstones, and mica diameter: 9 1/8 in.© 2006 David Franzen. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

WEST PALM BEACH, FL.- The special exhibition, Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art, showcases dozens of objects from Shangri La, the spectacular Honolulu home Doris Duke built in the mid 1930s and filled with Islamic art until her death in 1993. Featuring artwork from the first through the 20th centuries, Shangri La unfolds organically, much like Duke’s many travels through Muslim countries. The exhibition, which also includes contemporary work by former Shangri La artists-in-residence, is on view from March 21 through July 14, 2013.

New York native Duke, was the only child of James Buchanan Duke, and inherited her father’s tobacco and energy fortune at age 12. She eventually chose to build a residence in Hawaii, commissioning architect Marion Sims Wyeth (1889-1982) to design and build Shangri La as a seasonal home. Wyeth was known for his work on many notable Palm Beach mansions and later designed the Norton Museum of Art. Taking an active role in developing the plans for Shangri La, Duke intended the architecture to be influenced by Islamic artworks and artifacts she collected, and envisioned a collection that also would be integrated into the architecture.

Situated among five acres of interlocking, terraced gardens and pools overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu’s Diamond Head, Shangri La seamlessly integrated Duke’s passion for modern architecture, tropical landscape, and art from throughout the Islamic world.

The home incorporates unique architectural features such as carved marble doorways, decorated screens known as jali, gilt and coffered ceilings, and floral ceramic tiles. The interiors weave together artifacts such as silk textiles, jewel-toned chandeliers, and rare ceramics, many collected during a 1935 honeymoon which took her around the world.

“Doris Duke’s encounters with the Islamic world were transformative and Shangri La is her paean to the places and traditions she loved—a story told in many voices and from many perspectives in this exhibition,” says Deborah Pope, Executive Director of Shangri La. “Duke recognized Shangri La’s fluid identity, paying homage to a pan-Islamic world while simultaneously embracing modern style and innovation. Those juxtapositions and paradoxes are the essence of Shangri La…”

The earliest piece in the exhibition is an exquisite first-millennium gold jug. Other highlights include ceramics and glassware from the 10th to 20th century; mother-of-pearl, 18th-century furniture from Turkey and Syria, a silver pitcher from Kashmir, a Spanish earthenware charger, and a pair of 19th-century wood-and-copper courtyard doors with Arabic calligraphy. Textiles are also represented, including Egyptian tent panels and embroideries from Uzbekistan. Archival photographs, schematic drawings, and an architectural model of the estate also are included. Shangri La is curated by Donald Albrecht and Tom Mellins.

Born on Nov. 22, 1912 in New York City, Doris Duke was the only child of John Buchanan (J.B.) Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Energy Company. Upon his death in 1925, his fortune was divided between Doris, who was only 12, and the Duke Endowment—a foundation he established to serve the people of the Carolinas. Intelligent, daring, and independent, Doris Duke used her wealth to pursue her interests, many of which were considered unconventional at the time, but today reveal her prescience as a free-thinking adventurer. She was an environmentalist long before it was fashionable; a war correspondent in Italy during World War II; a horticulturist who bred a new hybrid of orchid; a bold experimenter who learned to surf before the sport was widely known outside of Hawaii; and an early funder of AIDS research. She died in 1993.

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