Exploring the Early Americas features selections from the more than 3,000 rare maps, documents, paintings, prints, and artifacts that make up the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress. This ongoing exhibition has three major themes: “Pre-Contact America;” “Explorations and Encounters;” and “Aftermath of the Encounter.” Like the Jay I. Kislak Collection itself, the exhibition provides glimpses into the complex and fascinating past of the Americas. It provides insight into indigenous cultures, the drama of the encounters between Native American and European explorers and settlers, and the pivotal changes caused by the meeting of the American and European worlds. The last theme explores the profound growth of knowledge, particularly in natural history and geography, resulting from the encounters. This section includes two extraordinary maps by Martin Waldseemüller created in 1507 and 1516, which depict a world enlarged by the presence of the Western Hemisphere.

This installation begins the public’s direct and permanent access to a remarkable private collection and the collection’s full availability for research and scholarly exploration. Throughout the exhibition, interactive presentations enable visitors to learn directly from the artifacts, books, documents, paintings, and maps.

About Jay I. Kislak

Jay Kislak is more than a collector. His inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge have inspired a lifelong love of books. Mr. Kislak and his wife, Jean, an art curator, are avid collectors with far-ranging interests and the connoisseur’s eye for quality. 

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Mr. Kislak graduated from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and served as a naval aviator during World War II. After the war, he entered the real estate brokerage and mortgage banking business founded by his father in 1906.

Early in his career, Mr. Kislak moved to Florida and began a half-century exploration of the history of his new home. Attracted to rare maps and books, he began amassing a comprehensive collection on early Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica.

As his interest deepened over the years, he acquired many rare books and manuscripts that pertained to the early years of European exploration. Jay and Jean later expanded their collecting to include artifacts produced by indigenous civilizations of the Western Hemisphere. As a book collector, Mr. Kislak was especially intrigued by the culture of the Maya, who developed the earliest written language in the hemisphere.

Because of the gift of the Kislak Collection, with its related exhibitions and programs of research and education, more than 3,000 rare books, maps, documents, art works, and artifacts are now available to the public for study and enjoyment.