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Established in 1945, the Museum was founded by the pioneering American woman Jacques Marchais (1887-1948), an important collector and respected expert on Tibetan art.


Designed by Marchais, the rustic complex of fieldstone buildings resembles a Tibetan mountain monastery.  These historic buildings represent the first Himalayan-style architecture to be built in the United States, and it was the first museum in the world devoted solely to Tibetan art.

This “Jewel on a Hillside” replicates the monasteries of Tibet while it contains the unique artifacts that reflect the art, history, culture, and religious articles that have been destroyed in their homeland. This singular place in the USA preserves site and artifacts in memory of the founder and as a collection held in a contextual setting.

The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, formerly named the Jacques Marchais Center of Tibetan Art and also known popularly as the Tibetan Museum, was built between 1943 and 1947 by Jacqueline Klauber, who called herself Jacques Marchais. The museum consists of two fieldstone buildings designed to resemble a small Himalayan monastery, situated in a quiet garden high on a hillside overlooking 

New York Bay in Staten Island, New York.

The interior of one building used as the main exhibition area is a square room, two stories high, that resembles the chanting hall of a Tibetan temple. A three-tiered stone altar across one end is covered with statues, paintings, and ritual objects.

Four pillars painted with Tibetan motifs support the flat roof with a dome in the center. Eighteen small windows surround the top of the room on the three sides facing the altar. The other building, dominated by a large stone fireplace, was initially furnished like a baronial library but is used for office space and a museum gift shop.

The property nestles into the side of the hill, and no sounds intrude from the street above. All the noise and bustle of New York seem far away. Statues of Shakyamuni Buddha sit peacefully in the garden, and colorful, printed Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze, sending out their message of compassion for all sentient beings. The atmosphere is one of serenity and beauty. The Tibetan Museum uniquely displays its art in a setting that contributes to the visitor's understanding and enjoyment. When he saw the museum in 1991, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, said it felt like being in Tibet.

But how did this unique Himalayan temple come to be there, built when Tibet meant, if anything, "Lost Horizons" and "Shangri-La" to most people? Indeed, the museum is a tribute to the imagination, energy, and willpower of one extraordinary woman, Jacques Marchais.


Jacques Marchais was born Edna Coblentz on September 30, 1887,          in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to her unfinished autobiographical notes, her father died when she was only a baby, and her mother, who had moved to Chicago, let her when she was two years old in the care of sisters in a nunnery for more than a year, although she was not Catholic.


Her mother had to work hard to support herself and her daughter when she took the child back with her. As a young girl, Edna appeared in numerous professional theater productions in and near Chicago under the name Edna Norman. She had an early and successful career as an actress and singer. She attracted the attention of several wealthy people who helped her mother finance her education and with whom she spent holidays. When she was sixteen, she appeared in a comic opera, Peggy in Paris, played in Boston. In 1903, she met and married her first husband, Brookings Montgomery, a young man from a prominent and well-to-do  St. Louis family, with whom she had three children. She and Brookings were divorced in 1910, and she left her children with Brookings's family, who adopted them while she returned briefly to her stage career.

In 1918, she married Harry Klauber, a businessman from Brooklyn, and was very happy with him. Harry Klauber owned a textile and chemical business in Brooklyn with his brothers. Called "the Governor" by his friends and family, he was, by all accounts, an extraordinarily kind and generous man who loved his wife dearly and tried his best to please her.

 In 1921, they purchased a home and property on Lighthouse Avenue (then called Seaview Avenue) on the crest of a hill on Staten Island and moved there from Manhattan.  In 1925, she began constructing the terraces and gardens around their new home. Later, she built additions to her house and modified the doors and windows, surrounding them with trapezoidal moldings to look "Tibetan."

In the early 1930s, Jacques Marchais became a collector of Tibetan art. In 1938, she opened the Jacques Marchais Gallery at 40 East Fifty-first Street in New York City. There, she sold "rare pieces of Oriental art, including Tibetan objects." The gallery was a means to accomplish a dream that had taken root in her: building a Tibetan temple on her hillside property.


I only started this gallery as a forerunner for the miniature copy of the Potala of Lhasa, which I hope to build on our hill adjoining the gardens within the next five years. I plan to make it large enough to house three hundred people at a time. It will be, of course, of fieldstone, the interior done in the color conducive to peace meditation- with a giant Buddha smiling down upon them in benevolent benediction.!


Her interest in Tibet was not superficial. She collected and read many scholarly books, penciling notes in the margins. She was also an astute businesswoman, and the gallery permitted her to obtain the considerable funds necessary for the building she envisaged.


I have had a tough time putting my Tibetan Art Gallery on its feet (as only personal contacts, through friends, can one build up the clientele one needs to put it on its feet).

Many men are interested in collecting the lovely bronzes and going deep into the iconography of Tibetan Lamaism, but few women...

The gallery is only a stepping stone towards doing something that will help humanity in the long run. To do this, I had to find a way to raise the money myself; I could not and would not beg for contributions. Therefore, I conceived the idea of selling in a gallery -properly presenting my fine collection of gold bronzes Tibetan deities.

There are over a thousand fine first water pieces now acknowledged as the finest collection outside Tibet.



The gallery remained open for ten years. 

On August 11, 1943, she and Harry broke ground to construct a library building next to their house. The library was completed in 1945, and in December 1945, the Jacques Marchais Center of Tibetan Art was incorporated in the State of New York as a private, nonprofit educational organization. (She later wrote that her original choice of name was the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. In 1945, she started construction of the temple building. She designed both buildings and gardens entirely by herself and exhibited great pique when the city forced her to have an architect draw and file plans and blueprints.


She wrote in her notes that "no one had anything what-so-ever to do with the designing and planning... I was a Lone Wolf from the beginning to the end. It was because I knew what I was striving for because I knew Tibetan architecture, symbolism, etc., and was working for perfection-that I insisted upon going it alone."

 Working with her on the construction were a local stonemason, Joseph Primiano, and his assistant and, later, a carpenter. She says that she and a helper hauled the heavy boulders up the hill in her old car. The effort was herculean.

Jacques intended her temple/museum to house the "permanent Jacques MarchaisCollection of Tibetan Ritual Art," and she referred to it as the "Potala of the West." She described her intentions:

This museum, which will have a large Oriental library for research and reference attached, is to be a miniature duplicate of the Potala in the forbidden city of Lhasa. It will be richly furnished and will have all those architectural details in true Tibetan style) which make the difference between a perfect reproduction and only an indifferent copy…

The museum will be surrounded by Terraced gardens. And just as Madame Marchais was the architect for the museum, she has also been the landscape gardener for the surrounding grounds. She was not satisfied to be just a "director" in this work but did much of the labor herself, hauling tons of fieldstone in her car over three years...

Truly, this is a place for meditation. The gardens have been named

"SAMADHI."... When the 'Potala of the West" is completed, collectors and admirers of Tibetan art will be notified.

On Sunday, October 5, 1947, she opened the Jacques Marchais Center of Tibetan Art with a grand dedication ceremony for friends and associates. Life reported the opening in an article entitled "New York Lamasery" in its issue on December 8, 19475. The article featured a full-page picture of Jacques Marchais wearing a long blue gown, seated in an antique Chinese red lacquer chair in front of the altar, flanked by two bronze Nepalese guardian lions. The center was to be open by subscription only to library and museum members, not the public at large.

Tragically, on February 15, 1948, four months after the completion of her dream, Jacques Marchais died at the age of sixty, suffering from complications of cerebral embolism, diabetes, and coronary disease. Possibly, her labor on the buildings hastened her death.

Her stated goal in building the museum was to create something for the benefit of humanity. It was a Buddhist conception, but she was not Buddhist. She accepted no organized religion, yet her beliefs expressed great spirituality. She was drawn to the esoteric and the mystical. She believed in reincarnation.  She was buried in a Christian cemetery on Staten Island.

There were many anomalies in the person of Edna Coblentz, or Jacques Marchais, and she was a very complex woman. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to tell what is fact and fiction in her account of her life, in which she wrote, 

 ''I so loved to be play-acting all through my waking hours." 

It seems clear that she harbored resentment toward her mother, perhaps for what she perceived as her lack of maternal care. Yet she left her children, and although she brought them back to live with her after she and Harry married, her relationship with them was poor.

She tried hard to establish a vital family background for herself, possibly to make herself more acceptable to her first husband's family, who had snubbed her, and to the world at large, but also perhaps to satisfy an inner need to be a fairy tale heroine. At some time after she came to New York, she adopted the name "Jacques  Marchais" The earliest found reference to her use of the name is in the address of a letter to her dated October 2, 1926, from Dr. Max Thorek, a physician and friend in Chicago), telling people that her paternal grandmother's family was named Marchais and that her father, wanting a boy, had given her a boy's name. In later years, she claimed vehemently that "Jacques Marchais" was her factual and legal name of birth. Nevertheless, her son's birth certificate, Brookings Jr., clearly states her maiden name as Edna Coblentz, as well as her date and place of birth. Her son's family, however, needs to learn the origin of the name Jacques Marchais. The truth remains a mystery.

Her mother's maiden name was Norman, but the family background is obscure. In an undated letter to her mother, Jacques Marchais revealed complete ignorance of any maternal relatives and asked her mother who her people were.


There is no evidence that her mother responded. Still, she may have because Jacques Marchais later claimed that her mother belonged to the Rittenhouse family of Philadelphia and that her mother's grandfather was Sir John Norman, a British lord and sea captain.

Surviving family members describe her as being attractive and sometimes very charming. She could be gay and friendly and liked going to theaters and restaurants. She thought of herself as a spiritual person with unique insights, but she drove a hard financial bargain and she was extremely strong-willed. She was erratic and given to mood swings, and she changed her stories frequently. She also profoundly appreciated and cared for Harry, her husband. Jacques Marchais inspired both admiration and fear in those around her.

Nothing, however, really accounts for her obsession with Tibetan art and her incredible determination to build an authentic Tibetan building to display that art. Jacques Marchais wrote that her interest in Tibet began with thirteen figurines, found in a chest in her attic when she was a child, brought to this country from Darjeeling by her maternal great-grandfather, Sir John Norman. She said she loved those figurines and played with them like dolls. However, the records show that ten of the figurines were purchased in 1935, and her romantic story appears to have been a fantasy. According to one of her letters, she was interested in Tibet at least by 1933 but still needs to indicate why. She never visited Tibet, which would have been extremely difficult to do at that time because of the political situation in China, the hazardous and difficult travel, the Tibetan's unwillingness to admit foreigners, and her ill health. Indeed, despite her activity as a collector, she never went to any part of Asia. Yet he felt a deep affinity for that remote Himalayan country, encompassing her thoughts and eventually exhausting her energies. (Tibetans often say that she must have been Tibetan in a previous life.)

After her death, her will left everything to her husband and nothing to her children.

Harry survived her by less than eight months, dying on September 29, 1948. He will leave the property and the collections to the public as a memorial to his wife, along with a small endowment to support them, in the care of Helen A. Watkins, a neighbor and friend.

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