Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art …...… 0.5 hr
Alice Austen House ……………………………...… 0.5 hr
Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art …....… $5 each
Alice Austen House ……………………………….... $2 each
In our museum travels, we’ve seen quite a number of historic buildings made into museums, and we’ve begun to realize that these types of museum fall into two distinct categories: 1) buildings preserved for their historical significance, like being the setting of an important event, or 2) buildings associated with a notable/notorious person. These two types have different styles of exhibits and tours and end up being very different experiences. In most of NYC, the second category is far more rare than the first, but not in Staten Island.
Throughout its history Staten Island has been legendary (perhaps infamous) for its resident odd balls, characters and misfits. A surprising number of artists, actors, poets, inventors and revolutionaries have lived on the island, often seeking refuge from Manhattan and the world. As an example, two notorious revolutionaries lived here during their periods of exile: Mexican President Santa Anna, and the Italian freedom fighter Giuseppe Garibaldi. There is a bizarre rumor that Santa Ana was critical in the invention of chewing gum on Staten Island, as he imported chicle, the base of chewing gum, to replace rubber in carriage tires.
Gum isn’t the only innovation connected to Staten Island. Charles Goodyear (rubber vulcanization) and Antonio Mecci (possibly the first inventor of the telephone) both worked on their inventions here, and Mary Ewing Outerbridge built the first tennis court in the US on Staten Island (it caught on quick). The island has been home to a number of extremely odd musicians, from Gene Simons (of Kiss) to Lady Gaga, and the writers who have lived here are legion, ranging from the poet Langston Hughes to the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon.
With so many creative characters on the island, it’s not surprising that four of Staten Island’s historic buildings memorialize a few of it’s odder residents: spiritualist Jacques Marchais, turn of the century photographer Alice Austen, maritime artist John A. Noble, controversial inventor Antonio Mecci and his unlikely roommate the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Girabaldi.
|Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art|
Sadly, the collection has shrunk since Marchais’s death. The museum passed through a number of hands and many pieces were lost, sold off and possibly stolen. However, today the museum is in better care and runs an active events program. During our visit they were setting up for a Tibetan cooking demonstration. Two rooms of the house are open for viewing: the library and the "Temple Room,” with a three-tiered mica altar. While the collection is smaller than in Marchais’s day, exhibits still include a number of valuable and interesting pieces of Tibetan art, including ritual knives, alter sets, furniture, textiles and lots of bronze deities. The museum also hosts the occasional modern displays. Paul particularly enjoyed a colorful photography exhibit showcasing the current people of Tibet.
To Paul and me, the Tibetan art at the Jacques Marchais Museum was similar to what we had seen at the Rubin Museum (the large Tibetan art museum in Manhattan), and, unfortunately, we encountered the same problems that we had had at the Rubin. Namely, that the objects were presented with very little explanation. As we have no background in Buddhism or Tibetan art, we were left with a lot of questions. We also wanted more information about Jacques Marchais herself, an intriguing woman who lived life on her own terms, inspiring others with an ancient religion and culture that she had no connection with, other than her own curiosity and imagination.
|Alice Austen House|
|New York street scene, Alice Austen|
|Trude and I, masked, short skirts by Alice Austen|
|Julia Martin, Julia Bredt and Self Dressed Up as Men, Alice Austen|
|Alice Austen House|
|Miss E. Alice Austen, 1888 by Captain Oswald Müller|
Images in this post, from the top: Alice Austen, Auntie Minn and Oswald Müller. 1884, by Alice Austen; exterior of Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art; portrait of Jacques Marchais; two statues at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art; exterior of the Alice Austen House; Alice and Girlfriends, by Alice Austen; New York scene by Alice Austen; Trude and I, masked, short skirts, by Alice Austen; Julia Martin, Julia Bredt and Self Dressed Up as Men, 1891 by Alice Austen; interior of the Alice Austen House; Miss E. Alice Austen at 22, 1888 by Captain Oswald Müller.