The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art was not founded by an exotic Frenchman, but by an American woman born in Ohio in 1887. Her father wanted a boy, thus the name Jacques (which she fully embraced). The museum is 400 feet above sea level, the second highest point on the Eastern seaboard south of Maine.
In 1916, Jacques came to New York. After flirting with an acting career and discarding two husbands, she married wealthy business man Harry Klauber and opened a gallery on East 57th Street and Park Avenue. It was a serious collection of Asian art (which she’d always loved) – figurines, sculptures, furniture, ritual objects – made in Tibetan monasteries and countries connected to Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1919, they moved to Staten Island where she continued collecting. Although Jacques had never been to Asia, she collected pieces from Tibet, China, Japan, India, Nepal and Mongolia that she read about in books. In 1941, construction began on the museum, library and garden. In 1947, it opened to the public.
Meg Ventrudo, our gracious museum guide, welcomed us to the library, a room overflowing with Asian art: brass and copper figurines, a beautifully carved red table and chairs, ritual objects and photographs.
In the museum room, there was an explosion of gold: The Buddhist Shrine Exhibit. Statues of Buddha were everywhere. One Buddha sprouted eleven heads, and an assortment of gold shrines spanned an entire wall. Trapezoid windows represented the Buddha of compassion.
The garden remains an integral part of the Center. Jacques called it her “Samadi Garden,” a word meaning a deep state of meditation.
The Museum mixes ancient art with ancient activities. A meditation group meets every Saturday morning. A Tai Chi class, taught by a former Monk, meets on Saturday afternoons.
Jacques Marchais had the vision to create the first Tibetan Cultural center in the West. She single-handedly transformed the hills of Staten Island into a landscape inspired by Asian mountaintop monasteries.