Edna Cobelentz was born Jacques Marchais, (1887-1948). She was named Jacques by her father. He did not feminize the family name. She became an actress in her youth and used the name Edna to avoid confusion. She supported her mother on her earnings as an actress, her father died when she was quite young.
In 1916, after a failed marriage and 3 children, she moved to NYC and began using her original name in her acting career. While in New York, she surrounded herself with a circle of friends that shared a common interest in art, spirituality and Buddhism. In 1920, Jacques Marchais married Harry Klauber (1885-1948), a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur in the chemical business. The couple moved to Staten Island in 1921, settled on Lighthouse Hill.
Marchais began collecting Tibetan Art and was one of the very first people in The United States to do so. In 1938, she opened a gallery to exhibit Tibetan and East Indian Art. The collection ranged from extravagant artwork and thangkas upon the wall to carved wood furniture and light fixtures. Statues and sculptures lined the shelves.
In 1947, she opened Shangri-La on Staten Island — a museum and library housing her large collection of art. The library and museum buildings feature characteristic details of Himalayan architecture including a flat roof, capped with a four-sided pagoda, trapezoidal-shaped windows and doors with cross-cut wood posts and slate caps. The Museum is surrounded by terraced gardens with a gold fish and lotus pond. Unfortunately Jacques Marchais died in February 1948, merely four months after the Museum’s opening.
The museum, located on Lighthouse Ave in Staten Island is open to the public Wednesday – Sunday from 1 – 5 pm.