Header Image
< Back to Conservation of the Collection

Conserving the Syrian Room

Following the completion of work in the Damascus Room, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) initiated a second multiyear partnership with the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) to conserve the decorated walls and ceilings in the Syrian Room. The project began in 2009 and has continued through three phases into 2012, with additional work in 2014. The project is supervised by Winterthur staff but has been largely undertaken by Winterthur Fellows—graduate students training to become conservators.

Kirsten Travers and LeeAnn Barnes consolidating flaking paint on the ceiling of the large chamber of the Syrian Room, 2009. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Phase I: The Main Ceiling (2009)

In Phase I (see full report) of the Syrian Room project, two graduate students from WUDPAC, LeeAnn Barnes and Kirsten Travers, supervised by Associate Professor Mary McGinn, spent eight weeks assessing, documenting and treating the main ceiling. The first objective was to document present conditions, focusing on past restorations, damage and unstable areas. The second objective was to address these conditions by consolidating unstable materials to prevent additional loss.

Using the system developed during work in the Damascus Room, LeAnn and Kirsten recorded conditions using color overlays on digital images. Areas of instability consisted primarily of flaking paint; these were consolidated using adhesives tested and modified to address the particular needs of each type of decorated surface.

In the course of documentation and treatment, the history of the ceiling (including the materials of manufacture and the ceiling’s installation at Shangri La) was thoroughly researched, and 50 samples were collected for analysis. Back at the University of Delaware, the samples were examined using a range of analytical techniques, including energy dispersive xray florescence, cross sectional microscopic analysis with staining techniques, energy dispersive and backscatter analysis with a scanning electron microscope, Raman spectroscopy, gas chromatography and polarizing light microscopy. Kirsten Travers’s technical study sheds light on the materials used to create the ceiling as well as its current appearance.


Sarah Gowen consolidating the gilded ornament on the north doors of the large chamber of the Syrian Room, 2010. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

Phase II: Main Ceiling and Gilded Doors (2010)

During Phase II (see full report) Shangri La hosted WUDPAC students Sarah Gowen and Stephanie Oman, again under the supervision of Associate Professor Mary McGinn. Their first task was to complete the unfinished consolidation and compensation for losses in the main ceiling begun during Phase I. During the second part of Phase II, two sets of gilded doors on the north and east walls of the Syrian Room, were evaluated, documented and treated (see full report). Again, conditions were recorded using color overlays on digital images. While the heavily restored north doors were in relatively good condition, the east doors had sustained major termite damage since coming to Shangri La.

As in earlier work, treatment included cleaning, consolidation and compensation. Mary McGinn returned to Shangri La in 2011 to complete the compensation (infilling and gilding) for the losses resulting from termite activity (see full report).


Jessica Ford toning fill material to match surrounding areas, 2012. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Samantha Skelton, 2012.)

Phase III: Wall Elements (2012)

Phase III (see full report) of the Syrian Room project was undertaken by WUDPAC students Jessica Ford and Samantha Skelton, supervised by Associate Professor Mary McGinn, in the summer of 2012. Phase III focused on the documentation and consolidation of the wooden wall elements in the two chambers of the room. The evaluation of the wall elements was conducted by Ford, Skelton and McGinn in consultation with Anke Scharrahs, a visiting conservator specializing in polychrome wooden surfaces.

The condition of the wall elements was mapped digitally, as in previous phases. The wooden panels grouped together in this phase were determined to be an assembly of pieces from several different decorated Syrian rooms, all of which had undergone several campaigns of repainting and “restoration.” In order to unravel these earlier treatments, samples were taken from the pink panels, calligraphic cartouches, vitrine frames and the cabinets in the large chamber for further analysis. Because the results of those analyses are not yet in, treatment was limited to consolidation of flaking paint and some structural stabilization, with only minimal cleaning and compensation.


Nick Pedemonti consolidating flaking paint on the ceiling of the small Syrian Room. Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Honolulu, Hawai'i. (Photo: Nicole Peters, 2014.)

Phase IV: Ceiling Documentation and Treatment (2014)

During the summer of 2014, Phase IV of the Syrian Room project was undertaken by Nick Pedemonti (WUDPAC Class of 2015) and Nicole Peters (Buffalo State Class of 2016). Phase IV focused on the documentation and consolidation of the Small Syrian Room ceiling. The project was supervised by University of Delaware Associate Professor Lauren Fair, who supervised onsite for the first week, and remotely for the remainder of the summer.

As in previous Phases, the condition of the ceiling panels was documented via condition maps created using large printouts of photographs of each section of the ceiling, taken by David Franzen in 2012. These printouts were overlaid with tracing paper on which areas could be colored to denote the various types of deterioration, condition issues, and previous restoration campaigns. Treatment of the ceiling took place up on scaffolding and entailed consolidating flaking paint and lifting ‘ajami by injecting and wicking adhesives under the surface. Some minor structural stabilization and toning of previous restorations was also completed.

< Back to Conservation of the Collection
About Shangri La Visit Islamic Art Collection Programs Residencies Internship Opportunities Stewardship Research Blog Contact Us