The internationally significant Jay I. Kislak Foundation collection will now have two permanent homes in South Florida — in the Special Collections Division of the University of Miami’s Otto G. Richter Library in Coral Gables and at Miami Dade College’s Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. Assembled over the course of many decades, the Kislak collection includes some of the most important original source materials related to the history of the early Americas, such as two of the earliest published editions of the famous 1493 letter of Christopher Columbus.
The Jay I. Kislak Foundation, University of Miami (UM) and Miami Dade College (MDC) jointly announced the landmark donation of rare books, maps, manuscripts and other historic materials.
Jay Kislak, prominent collector, philanthropist and Miami resident for more than 60 years, has been a lifelong collector of rare books and historic artifacts focused particularly on Florida and the Caribbean, exploration, navigation and the early Americas.
In 2004, he and the Jay I. Kislak Foundation donated more than 3,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts and objects to the Library of Congress. Its Kislak Collection now forms the basis of a major exhibition and extensive scholarly and public programs in Washington, DC.
In UM and MDC, Kislak identified two local partners with the ability and desire to create similarly extensive educational and cultural programming in South Florida. The Kislak-MDC-UM partnership will encompass exhibitions, research, education and public outreach, all designed to serve MDC and UM students and faculty, residents of the local community, and a global scholarly network engaged in the study of Florida, early American history, and the cultures of the Caribbean and Latin America. Through an operating agreement, MDC and UM will collaborate on exhibits and collections care as well as events and activities open to the public.
“I think this is an ideal partnership. We have the opportunity to combine the special resources of each institution and create exhibitions and programs that will be enjoyed by Miami-Dade residents and the millions of people who visit here from all over the world,” Kislak said.
“Miami Dade College is the largest and most diverse institution of higher education in the country, and is central to the educational, social, cultural and economic life of our community. Under the leadership of Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, Miami Dade has emerged as a globally recognized institution,” Kislak said.
“The University of Miami is among the nation’s top 50 research institutions, with a library that draws scholars from around the world. With the recent inauguration of Dr. Julio Frenk, this is an ideal time to establish the permanent repository in South Florida to conserve our collections and make them available to scholars and students for generations to come,” Kislak added.
The Kislak gift, representing a combined valuation of approximately $30 million, includes more than 2,300 rare books, maps, manuscripts, pre-Columbian artifacts and other historic materials.
UM and MDC will each receive a selection of important items. Each institution will receive a first edition of the famous 1493 letter of Christopher Columbus, in which the explorer described his New World discoveries to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.
Other Kislak gift highlights include:
• A 1486 edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, among the most influential works in the history of cartography. A copy of this atlas was known to have been owned by Columbus.
• A 1521 volume describing Cuba by Italian historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote the first accounts of Spanish explorations in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
• A 1589 volume, The Principal Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation by English writer Richard Hakluyt, who was known for promoting the British colonization of North America.
• A two-volume account of the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase.
The University of Miami’s share of the Kislak materials will become part of the Richter Library’s Special Collections Division, enhancing a collection highly regarded for its holdings of rare books and archives related to the cultural and political history of South Florida, the Caribbean Basin and South America, as well as its Cuban Heritage Collection of materials related to Cuba and the Cuban diaspora from colonial times to the present.
The university is currently renovating its special collections center, which will be renamed the Kislak Center, envisioned as a hub of expanded educational and cultural programming, with lectures, fellowships, undergraduate and graduate courses utilizing the collection resources, and a new exhibit gallery featuring a broad range of materials from the Kislak collection.
“We are grateful to Jay Kislak for his extraordinary vision and lifelong devotion to creating a scholarly and culturally significant collection that showcases the rich history of Florida and the Caribbean,” said UM president Julio Frenk. “Our Special Collections will be home to these unique and exceptionally important materials from the Kislak Collection, and working with our partners at Miami Dade College, the University of Miami will have an unparalleled opportunity to engage our community in the history and culture of our hemisphere.”
Miami Dade College plans to create a permanent 2,600-square-foot public exhibition gallery in the Freedom Tower. The exhibit space will be located in the building’s main public area, adjacent to its ballroom and historic New World Mural, which celebrates Ponce de Leon’s 1513 discovery and naming of Florida.
“We are honored and privileged to receive such a significant gift and to work with such great partners. In a community as diverse as ours, we feel the responsibility to embrace and share the arts, culture and history with our students, faculty and residents,” said MDC’s president
Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón.
The two Miami institutions also expect to collaborate with the Library of Congress in studying and promoting all Kislak collections and making them accessible to audiences throughout Florida and the region.
“For 500 years, Florida has been a focal point of global exploration and cultural exchange,” Kislak said. “I’m thrilled that Miami’s top two institutions of higher education, along with the Library of Congress, will now be using our collections to reveal the fascinating and important role of our community in world history.”