Wednesday, September 26, 2012
SHANGRI LA AT LAST Opening during the centennial year of Doris Duke’s (1912-93) birth this is the first major exhibition about Shangri La to be shown outside of Hawaii. It tells the story of her transformative engagement with the Islamic world that brings her work at Shangri La to national audiences. Doris was ahead of her time in collecting Islamic art and the exhibition is a breathtaking presentation of the spectacular Honolulu home of this philanthropic art collector.
DORIS DUKE’S PASSION Shangri La reflects Doris Duke’s aesthetic passion for collecting rare and historic Islamic art. The impressive home incorporates carved marble doorways, decorated screens, coffered ceilings, floral ceramic tiles, and everywhere exuberant color. Inlaid mother-of-pearl wood furniture reminds me of the beautiful bedroom suite in her house at Rough Point, Rhode Island, for I once visited this mansion and wrote a previous story about it. Duke was an accomplished swimmer and was known to into the ocean, off the cliff at Rough Point for a daily swim. No wonder she engaged in competition surfing in Honolulu.
SHANGRI LA TODAY Structured around five acres of interlocking terraced gardens and pools, Shangri La overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu’s Diamond Head. The home itself is a wonder of unique architecture and much of its construction was supervised by Doris herself. The interior weaves together artifacts such as silk textiles, jewel toned chandeliers and rare ceramics. Most astonishing are the huge retractable windows in the living room which can be lowered to reveal the breathtaking outdoor panorama of the gardens and Pacific Ocean. Today Shangri La is open to the public with 2,500 objects many collected during her extensive international travels. To promote Islamic art to its fullest there is a scholar-in-residence and artist-in-resident program.
AN AMERICAN HEIRESS Throughout her life Doris Duke’s generosity was legendary and her largesse extended to many known philanthropic causes, and others rarely mentioned gained her support. She was the only daughter of an immensely rich tobacco tycoon, James Buchanan Duke, who lavished large on his child. An oversized portrait of Doris at Rough Point attests to her blonde beauty and attractiveness, yet she was a down-to-earth realist, a great hostess and never bored but continued to explore, create and make a difference in the art world.
JOIE DE VIVRE LIFESTYLE Doris Duke may have been born into a life of wealth and privilege, but she embraced it with a love for life on many levels. For one thing, I remember that she was an accomplished jazz pianist who befriended jazz musicians and held music sessions in her home at Rough Point and even sang in a gospel choir. She spoke fluent French and at one time early on she was a journalist for Harper’s Bazaar. Doris loved animals, particularly her dogs and pet camel, and later in life became a wildlife conservationist. Many of the rare holdings at Shangri La were acquiring during her 1935 honeymoon around the world with her husband, James H.R. Cromwell, the son of a Palm Beach doyenne. They had one child, a daughter Arden, who sadly lived but one day.
THE MAGNIFICENT OBJECTS IN DORIS DUKE’S SHANGRI LA DEMONSTRATE JUST WHAT AN ACTIVE AND SENSITIVE APPRECIATION OF ISLAMIC ART AND OBJECTS SHE HAD. NOW THESE TREASURES OPEN TO THE PUBLIC COLLECTIVELY TANTALIZE OUR IMAGINATION WITH THE IDYLLIC ISLAMIC-INSPIRED PARADISE SHE CREATED.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
A ‘DAY’ HOTEL It was common in those days for the members of the upper and middle class to take ‘day trips’ to the country, the then rural setting that is now Manhattan. “Up north some might say,” but it offered a respite from the dirt, noise and bustle of city life. Remember, in the early part of the 19th century New York City only extended as far north as approximately 14th Street. In 1924 the Colonial Dames of America, a historical and genealogical organization bought the house and by 1939 it was opened to the public as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden. However, the museum was formerly called the Abigail Adams Smith Museum, in honor the woman who once lived there.
QUEEN OF COLONIAL REVIVAL It is sad to note that references of Jane Teller are rare in American furniture books, yet auction catalogs and other sources list nearly 1,000 objects that she bought widely for in 1922 she put up items for sale including bedspreads, whale oil lamps, pine tables, spinning wheels, butter churns, sugar kettles, cheese molds, lard squeezers and enough additional pieces to revive appreciation for all things Colonial that turn up at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum.
COLONIAL CRAFTSMANSHIP Jane Teller singularly sought to revive all aspects of Colonial culture, including the furniture and decorative arts of her 18th-century stone house headquarters at 421 East 61st Street where she began giving classes in handcrafts and advertised for a few bright women to learn hand spinning and weaving whilst self-appointing herself as the secretary of the Society for the Revival of Household Industries and Domestic Arts. Jane regretted that clothes were lacking of individuality and the finer artistry of old hand work. It is suffice to say that that very thought permeates many women’s thoughts even today.
WHO WAS JANE TELLER? She was born Jane Crosby and made a fortuitous match in 1902 and married Myron Teller, an architect who restored houses and was interested in things antiquarian. At her headquarters on East 61st Street Jane taught women to spin or to take raw flax or wool home and spin it there. Jane Teller may not be a household word today, but we acknowledge with gratitude that she helped to popularize the arts and crafts of the Colonial period. By the 1920s she was running a antiques shop offering work of old Colonial design.
THE MOUNT VERNON HOTEL and GARDENS ALLOWS US TO STEP BACK IN TIME TO THE COLONIAL ERA WHEN HAND MADE AND CRAFTSMANSHIP WERE TREASURED COMMODITIES AND A VISIT TO THE ‘DAY HOTEL’ GAVE US RESPITE FROM THE GRITTY CITY, EVEN TODAY.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
SOME HISTORICAL ACCOUNT The impressive interior and exterior of the hotel, with gold cherubs caressing the sweeping staircase inside was the work of American architect, John H.Duncan, who counts among his achievements as the architect of Grant’s Tomb and also the Soldiers’ and Sailor’s memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, NY. The 1904-built hotel was named after a brother of the ex-Senator of Colorado and the current steward, is Scott Erlich, whose family has owned the hotel since 1975 and has carefully restored the structure with a great sensitivity towards authenticating the original plan.
A GRAND BUILDING “If only we looked this good at one hundred years old!” is an appropriate statement when it comes to describing this beautiful Manhattan hotel. Like the grand lady, that she is, the building still maintains the structure’s original architectural details. The lobby is restored in perfect detail with gorgeous crystal chandeliers, marble columns and ceiling colors that match the magnificent period-looking carpet, as pictured in the image above. Keeping up appearances, so to speak, the hotels warm service also harkens back to a long-past era of hospitality.
A LADY AUTHOR As for me I think I would find the ambiance of the hotel so inspiring that I would sit right down and write a romantic novel there. That’s what America’s most beloved writer Edith Wharton did in 1907, she penned the book, “The Fruit of the Tree,” and I cannot wait to read it. Surely in the past discreet ladies on the town found the hotel’s warm and elegant ambiance to their liking as do the ladies and business women today who might find it likewise an appropriate home away from home.
FAMOUS GUESTS Recalling the hotel’s heyday, Titanic survivors took refuge there as did important businessmen. Musicians including Buddy Holly and Everly brothers were guests as were numerous other celebrities even including Fiorella H. LaGuardia and his family. Nonetheless, the Wolcott has come full circle and today it’s a destination place attracting fashionistas and travelers, not only because it is such a living treasure, but with all of its historical ambiance, the Wolcott, my dears, is quite affordable.
THE WOLCOTT HOTEL, 4 East 31st St., Between Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Tel: 212.268.2900
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- Polly Guerin
- Polly Guerin is an author/poet with four textbooks and 2 video productions as credentials as well as 4 books ready to be published. All my blogs are intended to become the basis for books to be published. PollyTalk From New York (c) is a current events blog about happenings in New York City. I have been PollyTalk columnist on the Internet, Big Apple News Network. AmazingArtDecoDivas blog features amazing women of notable character. I am on the board of the Art Deco Society of New York. The Fashion Historian blog gives pertinent insight into Polly's consummate knowledge about fashion history. Former professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Awaken Your Sleeping Beauty blog gives you pertinent information about holistic remedies for health, beauty, mind, body and spirit. I am on the board of the Edgar Cayce New York Center. I sing with the St. George's Choral Society and also serve on their Board. My little dog Colby is a rescue dog and I support animal charities. I hope you enjoy my blogs, please keep in touch.