Philanthropist, Environmentalist, Collector: Doris Duke and Her Estates

1938 Journey to the Middle East

In the spring of 1938, Doris Duke Cromwell, accompanied by her husband James Cromwell and five companions, traveled nearly six weeks throughout the Middle East to acquire works of art for Shangri La, her Hawaiian estate which was under construction at the time.

Royal Dutch Airlines

Follow the Journey through the Middle East

Follow Doris and James’ journey throughout the Middle East. The map above shows all of the stops they took, and the individual pages listed in the navigation bar show each stop in the order they were taken.

Why the Middle East?

While Doris' affluence likely afforded her the opportunity to make such a journey, one can only imagine the obstacles of such an excursion. Today traveling by air and automobile is ubiquitous, but in the 1930s no commercial flights were available in the Middle East nor were vehicles and qualified drivers easily accessible for side trips the travelers planned to take. Today we can book our trip to anywhere in the world via the Web, but in the 1930s telegrams and letters were the common method of communication. Food was another challenge. Dining at fine establishments in the larger cities such as Cairo or Damascus was likely unproblematic, but finding the same level of food quality in more remote areas could present a challenge. Knowing these potential hazards, what spurred Doris' travel throughout the Middle East in the 1930s?

Her 1935 honeymoon tour of the world, which included eastern destinations such as Egypt, India, Indonesia and China, offers insight to her decision. Traveling throughout these countries, Doris became fascinated by the rich Islamic cultural traditions and began collecting works of art for a home in Florida she and her husband expected to occupy when they returned stateside. However, an extended stay in Hawaii at the end of their honeymoon changed these plans. Intrigued with the beauty and tranquility of the islands, Doris decided to build her own "Near Eastern" house in Honolulu and fill it with Islamic art and architecture.

Arranging the Tour

Doris was fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Arthur Upham Pope, one of the most distinguished scholars and vigorous advocates of Persian art and culture of the time. Using his knowledge of the region and connections with Persian scholars and government officials, he performed an invaluable service by facilitating the Cromwells travels. Pope arranged for the purchase and delivery of two custom Buicks, secured a private airplane which would fly the travelers to various locations, introduced the Cromwells to various art dealers who would assist in their purchases, and cleared the way for the Cromwells to travel throughout the Middle East.

The images of the art objects in this interactive map are courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

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