Hawaii is a multicultural state, and it attracts people who want to share aspects of cultures that they love. One of those people was Doris Duke, the daughter of a New York tobacco and hydroelectric tycoon who used her inheritance to fund a wide range of interests, charitable giving, and traveling through the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. In 1937, she had a home built in Honolulu where she could share one of her major interests, Islamic art, with the world.

Doris Duke

She was born November 22, 1912 to Nanaline Holt Inman and James Buchanan Duke. She grew up in New York and New Jersey, and she became famous for her colorful personal life and interests in horticulture, philanthropy, and art. Part of her charitable work included working in a canteen for sailors in Egypt during WWII, giving money to medical research and child welfare groups, and creating a charity to preserve historic colonial homes. She died in 1993 from a pulmonary edema following a severe stroke.

Shangri La: The Museum

Doris Duke traveled extensively. In 1935, she visited the Taj Mahal and was inspired to build something similar. She and her then husband, James Cromwell, bought land at Diamond Head in 1936, and had an airy, spacious home built there in 1937. The home consists of multiple open-air courtyards teaming with fountains and foliage, themed rooms such as the Mihrab room and the Syrian room, and a separate peristyle building at one end of a pool called ‘the playhouse.’ They called this home Shangri La.

She decorated Shangri La with furniture, colored-glass windows, and screens from Moroccan workshops, but she did not stop there. She spent years collecting Iznik tiles, a type of pottery from Turkey that has a clear lead glaze, and used it in her home decor. She reconstructed the Mughal Garden (she loved horticulture and had a whole farm dedicated to it) and brought an 18th-century Syrian interior home with her.

During WWII, she couldn’t go to her Shangri-La, so she let soldiers stationed in Honolulu use it for recreation. Afterwards, she created the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art to encourage the study of the sort of art she had filled her Hawaiian home with. The foundation still owns the house and uses it as a museum, sponsoring cultural programs and residency programs for artists who promote the understanding and appreciation of Islamic art. They also preserve the 2,500 pieces of art she had collected. The museum itself is a piece of art, with many of the exhibited collections, such as her Iznik tiles, being part of the structure. There are pieces from many countries including Spain, Iran, Egypt, and Morocco, and the art spans multiple time periods. If you go there, you will see everything from silk carpets to pottery made throughout the world.

The foundation gives guided tours of the grounds in partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art. In fact, the tours start and end at the Honolulu Museum of Art, so you can get a two-for-one art experience if you want to. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday, at 9 am, 10:30 am, and 1:30 pm. Guests will have to reserve tickets in advance, but they get a shuttle ride to the museum and a knowledgeable tour guide.

If you would like to preview what you might see at this lovely museum, check out their temporary homepage at https://www.shangrilahawaii.org/. You’ll find events, artists, and information about joining tours.