The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art is pleased to announce its recent listing on the New York State Register of Historic Places.
“The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art is a distinctive part of New York’s rich heritage,” said Carol Ash, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “I’m sure the designation as a historic place will help the museum to preserve and care for this remarkable example of our state’s history and culture.” The New York State Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties recognized as significant in the history, architecture, and culture of New York.
Established in 1945, the museum was founded by pioneering American woman Jacques Marchais (1887-1948), an important collector and respected expert on Tibetan art, who contributed greatly to the growing interest in Asian art, philosophy, and spirituality in the United States. The museum represents Marchais’ vision to provide a peaceful retreat where the public could study the art and culture of Tibet.
Designed by Marchais, the museum’s unique complex of buildings and gardens resembles a Tibetan mountain monastery. These buildings represent the first Himalayan style architecture to be built in the United States, and it was the first museum devoted solely to Tibetan art in the world. Although Marchais had no training as an architect, she stated that, “Each stone was lovingly picked by me and hauled that has gone into its walls. And I was successful in getting it up without the benefit of one architect, contractor, or purchaser of materials. I was able to prove to myself that one woman could do it if the talent was great enough and the urge and willingness to work hard was strong enough.”
The two main buildings of historic significance, the library and museum, feature characteristic details of Himalayan architecture including trapezoidal-shaped windows, cross cut wood posts and slate caps above doorways, and flat roofs. The center of the roof on the museum building has a four-side flat seam copper clerestory pagoda roof in a miniaturized version of the rooftops on the Potala in Lhasa, the historic seat of the Dalai Lamas. The vision Marchais had of this building was inspired by a copy of the Potala made by the last emperors of China in their summer retreat at Chengde. Thus, in this single site on Staten Island, two UNESCO World Heritage sites are “copied” in miniature.
Constructed from local stone, much of it carried to the site in Jacques Marchais’s car, the buildings were built into the steep, natural setting of Lighthouse Hill with skillful help of local master stonemason, Joseph Primiano. Interwoven throughout the property is Marchais’s distinctive ‘Samadhi Garden.’ The terraced gardens feature a fish pond, meditation cells, and many of Jacques Marchais’ original plantings. The Himalayan-style buildings and Samadhi Garden retain the integrity of their original location, setting, design, materials, craftsmanship, and association. The site, set apart from the surrounding residences, still maintains its distinct feeling of a natural sanctuary.
Museum Director Meg Ventrudo said, “The listing on the New York Register of Historic Places recognizes the uniqueness of the Museum’s Himalayan style architecture and landscape design. This listing will allow us to apply for preservation funds not previously available to us.” The application for the register was researched and written by Curator Sarah Johnson, Ph.D. According to Dr. Johnson, “This designation reaffirms the historic importance of Marchais and the site she purpose-built for her treasury of Himalayan Buddhist art. She was truly prescient in understanding the value of Tibetan civilization to world cultural heritage and her mission to preserve Tibetan art and culture has only grown in importance since that time.”
The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art promotes understanding of Tibetan and Himalayan art and culture. The current exhibit, Tibetan Portrait:The Power of Compassion, features portraits of contemporary Tibetans by the renowned photographer Phil Borges. It aims to provide an understanding of Tibetan life, traditions, and beliefs through interactive displays. Located at 338 Lighthouse Avenue, the Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1:00pm – 5:00pm. For further information, please call 718-987-3500 or visit the website at www.tibetanmuseum.org.