The Cultures and History of the Americas: New Exhibition on View at the Library of Congress

AHA Staff, April 2005

St. AugustineThe Library of Congress will be presenting a special exhibition, The Cultures and History of the Americas, in celebration of the recent donation to the library of the Jay I. Kislak Collection. The exhibition opens on April 20, 2005, in the North Gallery of the Great Hall and will remain on view through July 23, 2005. Hours for the exhibition are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

The exhibition highlights some of the treasures of the Kislak Collection and gives an idea of the breadth and scope of the materials that comprise this major gift to the Library of Congress. The complete collection, which focuses on the history of the early Americas, from the indigenous people of Mexico through the period of European contact, exploration and settlement contains several thousand rare books, maps, manuscripts and documents, as well as an extensive research library of secondary sources. Complementing the books and manuscripts is a group of masterworks of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial art from North and South America, spanning three millennia of Native American and European cultures.

To acquaint visitors and scholarly audiences with the Kislak Collection, the highlights exhibition presents approximately 50 artifacts that introduce the themes of the collection and help to explain what motivated and inspired the collectors, Jay and Jean Kislak of Miami.

Among the exhibition highlights are an Olmec sculpture from circa 1100–500 B.C.; a letter from Christopher Columbus published in 1493 describing his first voyage; a classic Mayan carved jade plaque A.D. 400–700; two paintings by Diego Rivera illustrating scenes from the Popul Vuh, the creation myth of the ancient QuicheÌ Maya; a ceramic vase inscribed with Mayan hieroglyphics that tell the story of a ruling dynasty; and a 16th-century manuscript dictionary written in Spanish and two different Mayan dialects.

The themes, briefly explored in the highlights exhibition, include the pre-Columbian cultures of Central America and the Caribbean as revealed in sculpture, architecture and language; encounters between Europeans and the native cultures; the process of European colonization; and trade and piracy in the American Atlantic and Caribbean.

This temporary exhibition is mounted as a preview of the permanent Kislak Gallery, which is scheduled to open in the library’s Jefferson Building in 2006.

Jay Kislak is a native of New Jersey and a graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. A longtime Florida resident, Kislak has had a long, successful career in real estate and financial services. He and his wife, Jean, an art historian and consultant, are philanthropists and avid collectors.

— Adapted from a library press release.