Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Introduction: Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Her Suzani Collection

In 1935 tobacco heiress Doris Duke married James H. R. Cromwell and together they embarked on a year-long voyage around the world for their honeymoon. Returning home eastwards, their last port of call was Honolulu before they were to establish themselves in West Palm Beach, Florida. They found they enjoyed Honolulu, so they stayed much longer than planned. They bought a spot of land on Black Point, east of Diamond Head, and ultimately never settled in Florida.

Here, in the next couple of years, they built a house they soon dubbed Shangri La (Fig. 1), which upon Miss Duke’s death in 1993 became a museum according to the terms of her will under the administration of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, an operating foundation of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. At the time of her death, it was not known among historians of Islamic art that Doris Duke had been a major collector of Islamic art for six decades, beginning with purchases made on her honeymoon (Fig. 2).

Among the many honeymoon purchases were several textiles identified as “sujnee” on Bombay merchants’ invoices, on shipping invoices from Calcutta, and among her carefully kept lists of expenses, now in the Archives of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation housed at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. To judge from the informal descriptions of the objects in the archival documents from her honeymoon in comparison with objects in her collections at Shangri La, several of the “sujnee” acquired on her honeymoon are likely what are called suzani today in the West, after the Persian and Tajik word for needle, suzan, in its adjectival form, suzani (“of the needle”), meaning “needlework.” With particular styles of floral embroidery and color palette, such textiles today are attributed to urban centers in Uzbekistan (Bukhara, Tashkent, Samarqand, Shahrisyabz, Nurata).