Conservation of the Islamic art collection at Shangri La involves examination, documentation, treatment and preventive care supported by research and education, preserving it for future study and enjoyment. Shangri La's spectacular ocean-front location is an environment constantly assaulted by salt air, high relative humidity and temperature, harsh light, insects, mold and fungus. The challenges imposed on the collection by these conditions include degraded varnishes, failed mounts, cracking wood, failed adhesives, erosion, tunneling by insects, and metal corrosion, to name but a few.
To ensure the stability of its cultural property, the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) works with a number of professional conservators, including specialists in stone, glass, ceramics, metals, textiles, paintings and paper. Since March 2012, conservation activities have been managed by Shangri La's staff conservator, Kent Severson.
All conservation begins with examination and documentation. Thorough examination reveals how objects are made and alerts the conservator to the nature and extent of deterioration. Documentation, in the form of written reports and graphic or photographic images, records the condition of an object at a particular point in time, providing a baseline against which changes in condition can be measured. Documentation also helps future generations understand how age or conservation efforts have altered an object's appearance.
When repairs are made, conservators choose their materials carefully so that the repairs can be taken apart in the future without damaging the original material. This idea is known as reversibility. When filling in missing pieces or touching up losses in paint (sometimes called compensation), conservators make sure the added material will not cause damage and can be easily removed.
Beyond the treatment of individual objects, an effective strategy for long-term care of the collection as a whole is essential. Important components of this strategy include regular inspection, efficient low-impact maintenance and housekeeping, the use of environmentally-controlled storage and integrated pest management.
Setting priorities for the conservation of DDFIA's collection is an ongoing process. Curatorial recommendations for the conservation of objects may be based on artistic significance or the need to prepare objects for exhibition, photography or publication. As the collection is surveyed and documented, the analysis and advice of conservators is critical to the identification of those objects most at risk.
Shangri La is an institutional member of the American Institute for the Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works (AIC).