November 3, 2022

Rare Books and Maps in New Early Americas Exhibition Space

Library of Congress

Planned new exhibition space at the Library of Congress

The Kislak Family Foundation is donating $10 million to create a new exhibition at the Library of Congress that will share a fuller history of the early Americas, featuring the acclaimed Jay I. Kislak Collection of artifacts, paintings, maps, rare books and documents. The new Kislak Gallery will be part of a reimagined visitor experience at the national library in the years ahead.

The Kislak Foundation gift will develop the exhibition gallery and establish a permanent endowment fund at the Library to maintain and renew the exhibition in the future. This major gift was announced on the 125th birthday of the Library’s historic Thomas Jefferson Building, a moment to celebrate the Library’s history and its future.

“The Kislak Family Foundation continues to be such a special partner to the Library of Congress in telling the magnificent story of our world,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “With this generous gift, we are honored to continue Jay Kislak’s legacy through this newly renovated gallery that thoughtfully shares with visitors the rich and complex histories of those who came before us.”

“Voices of the Early Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection” is slated to open in 2024. The exhibition will explore both the history of the Native cultures of the Americas before colonization by Europeans and the aftermath of that event. Curators aim to show how complicated this story is, how Native American cultures were violently conquered, sometimes enslaved, and how vibrant they are today. This deep past continues to inspire many people, including modern artists, writers and poets, whose works will also be featured.

“My father wanted this collection to live on well beyond his own time at the finest institution in the world. By reimagining how this unparalleled resource informs and inspires the American people, the Library of Congress will ensure that his vision comes to fruition for future generations,” said Paula Kislak, chair of the Kislak Family Foundation. “We are pleased to make this gift to the Library of Congress.”

In 2004, Kislak first donated nearly 4,000 items from his collection to the Library of Congress. Select pieces from the collection were featured in a previous exhibition. This extraordinary gift to the American people included rare masterpieces of Indigenous art, maps, manuscripts and cultural treasures documenting more than a dozen Native cultures and the earliest history of the Americas.  

The new exhibition will provide a fuller narrative and chronology to tell the story in an immersive and informative new gallery. It will display more items from the Kislak collection as well, with some artifacts dating back to 1,000 B.C. Many objects will be displayed for the first time through a state-of-the-art, transparent artifact wall in the rear of the gallery. The exhibition also will incorporate select items from other Library collections, mixing in textiles, rare books, manuscripts, photography, and other artistic works, that will serve to place the Kislak collection in context and provide visitors with a more comprehensive view of the profound impact of these early civilizations.

“‘Voices of the Early Americas’ will give voice to the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas. It is my hope that our visitors will have a different idea of the history of the early Americas after they explore this gallery,” said John Hessler, the exhibition curator. “A central theme will examine how the  Americas we know today grew out of a polyphony of voices – a mixing of Indigenous, African and European cultures.”

An external advisory committee of scholars and curators will help shape and challenge the exhibition’s development. Ralph Appelbaum Associates is designing the exhibition.

The Library of Congress is committed to observing legal and ethical standards in acquiring and displaying cultural artifacts. Kislak acquired many of the pieces between 1981 and 2003. He donated his collection to the Library of Congress in 2004 so that the public might better appreciate the history and cultures of the civilizations in the ancient and early Americas.
Each object that will be on display has a significant story to communicate to current and future generations about the craftspeople, painters, potters and metalworkers who produced them.

Building A Library for You

The Library is pursuing a multiyear plan to build “A Library for You,” transforming the experience of its nearly 2 million annual visitors, sharing more of its treasures with the public and showing how Library collections connect with visitors’ own creativity and research.

Three core components are central to the visitor experience plan. These include a new ground-level orientation gallery in the Thomas Jefferson Building to help visitors navigate the Library and understand its history, a new learning lab to engage and inspire visitors and new exhibitions to feature the Library’s treasures. Design and planning work is underway for the project.

The Kislak gift will build on the significant investments of Congress and private philanthropy in the Library’s infrastructure, exhibitions and programs, all delivering on the Library’s commitment to open its doors wider to all people everywhere. In 2020, philanthropist David Rubenstein announced a lead gift of $10 million to support the visitor experience plan. Congress has appropriated $40 million as part of this public-private partnership.