Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

Robert and Louise Koke Collection


Collection ID:
Koke, Robert A., d. 1996
Koke, Louise G. (Louise Garrett)
bulk 1935-1949
Physical Description:
2.4 Cubic feet
The personal papers of Robert "Bob" and Louise Koke consist of 2.4 cubic feet and document the couple's years traveling and living in Asia before, during, and after World War II. The bulk of the material is from 1935 through 1949 and consists of correspondence, a travel diary, financial documents, and photographs. The papers concern their initial travels through Asia, their time running a hotel in Bali, Bob's military service in Sri Lanka and India during World War II, and their experiences in Shanghai after the war and before the Communist takeover of China, with a small number additional materials from the period following their return to the United States.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The papers of Robert and Louise Koke measure 2.4 cubic feet and date from 1933 to 1992, with the bulk of the material dating from between 1935 and 1949. The collection consists of correspondence, financial documents, Louise's travel diary from 1935-1936, and photographic material from their travels. The correspondence is mainly between Bob and/or Louise Koke and Bob's family, including his parents, John and Neltha Koke, and sister, Dorothy, or a mixture of the three. Almost all letters are from Bob and/or Louise to Bob's family; the family's responses are not included. Their correspondence is almost exclusively from Bob and Louise's time in Asia, although there are some from when they were in the USA. They spent time in Japan, China, Singapore, and Indonesia, and Bob was in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during World War II. Finally, they spent the years immediately following the war in Shanghai. Their departure from Asia marks the end of the bulk of the correspondence. The rest of the letters are to or from a mixture of correspondents outside the family. A few poems and short stories written by Louise are also among the correspondence.
Financial documents pertaining to Bob and Louise's purchases abroad and their dealings selling Balinese goods to MGM make up the financial documents series.
Louise's travel diary documents a portion of their travels in 1935-1936, from their arrival in Japan to partway through their time in China.
Photographic material includes photographs taken by Bob in Japan, China, and Indonesia. Most appear to have been taken between 1935 and 1949. They depict local sites, people, and cultural events.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Robert "Bob" Koke was born in 1910 in Pasadena, California to Neltha and John Koke. He worked in the Production Department at MGM and was a tennis professional. Louise was born Louise Gignoux on May 25, 1897 in New York City. She was a painter. Robert and Louise Koke travelled to Asia in late 1935, touring Japan before visiting China, Singapore, and Bali. The Kokes arrived in Bali in 1936 and decided to stay. They opened Kuta Beach Hotel with Muriel "Manx" Pearson and spent the next five years growing their hotel, living among and observing the local population and their traditions. The Kokes fled Bali on the last boat out of the island in 1941 due to the threat of Japanese invasion.
Shortly thereafter, Bob joined US Army Intelligence and was sent to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where he trained agents in Indonesian languages and culture to go undercover in the Japanese-controlled country. He remained with the military after the war and joined the CIA in 1947 when it was founded. He and Louise were based in Shanghai from 1946 until 1949, when they were forced to leave due to the Communist takeover of the country. Upon their return to the United States, following a brief sojourn in Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) and Japan, Bob continued to work with the CIA until his retirement in the mid-1970s. Louise died in 1992, Bob in 1996.
During his travels, Bob took numerous photographs of local sites, people, and their traditions. His photos of Balinese traditional culture before the island was overrun by tourists are of particular interest. He and Louise also kept up consistent contact with his parents during their time abroad, noting their perspective on aspects of local Balinese traditions, their way of life in Bali, the many and varied guests they had, and local and international happenings of the time.


Sadie Ouzts and Ryan Murray
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of BASAbali.
Processing Information
Processed by Sadie Ouzts and Ryan Murray, 2020.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
Permission to reproduce and publish an item from the Archives is coordinated through the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery's Rights and Reproductions department. Please contact the Archives in order to initiate this process.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research use.
Preferred Citation
Robert and Louise Koke Collection, FSA.A2019.05. National Museum of Asian Art Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of BASAbali.

More Information


Koke, Louise.
Our Hotel in Bali: How Two Young Americans Made a Dream Come True
. Singapore: Pepper Publications Pte. Ltd, 1982.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Bali Island (Indonesia) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Balinese (Indonesian people) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Japan Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
China Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
World War, 1939-1945 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
National Museum of Asian Art Archives
Washington, D.C. 20013