The name Doris Duke is often synonymous with the glamorous yet eccentric and reclusive heiress whose life played out in the press. The archival materials in our latest education gallery installation, Doris Duke: A Life Well Travelled — part of the Doris Duke Collection at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University and accompanying Doris Duke’s Shangri La — reveal a much different and more complex story. Adventurous, intelligent, and independent, Doris Duke (1912-1993) was determined not to be defined by social expectations or her vast wealth. Throughout her life she continued her family’s innovative pattern of philanthropy, eagerly advocated for the protection of the environment, and pursued her lifelong passion as both a collector and patron of Islamic art.
Doris Duke: A Life Well Travelled is a multimedia installation where visitors are taken on a voyage through the life of Doris Duke. Here are just a few of the highlights of her eccentric and well-travelled life. In her pre-teen years she travelled to Europe and purchased art, furniture and couture clothing from the House of Paquin. At age 21 she established her first charitable foundation, Independent Aid and the following year she married James Cromwell.
The couple visited exotic locations such as India and Hawai’i on their honeymoon. Doris would eventually purchase land in Hawai’i that would lay the groundwork for Shangri La.
Doris and James also extensively travelled in the Middle East and you can follow their journey on one of three interactive iPads in this installation; the other two tablets have a timeline of Doris Duke’s life (below) and some of her personal recordings of her singing and playing piano.