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The Shared History of the Americas

A major collection of rare books, manuscripts, historic documents, maps and art of the Americas has been donated to the Library of Congress by the Jay I. Kislak Foundation of Miami Lakes, Fla. The collection contains some of the earliest records of indigenous peoples in North America and superb objects from the discovery, contact and colonial periods, especially for Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica.

Seated male figure, Las Bocas, Mexico. Diego Rivera,

The Library of Congress is presenting a special exhibition, "The Cultures and History of the Americas," in celebration of this extraordinary gift to the nation. "The Cultures and History of the Americas" 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 from A.D. 400-700; two paintings by Diego Rivera illustrating scenes from the "Popul Vuh," the creation myth of the ancient Quiche´ 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 later in the Jefferson Building.

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.

If you live in the Washington area or will be visiting, the exhibition is on view in the Library's Jefferson Building and will remain on view through July 23. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Complementary materials can be seen in another exhibition, "1492: An Ongoing Voyage." This exhibition, opened in 1992, celebrated the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' landfall in the Americas. One of the highlights of this presentation is the Huejotzinco Codex. By 1531, the conqueror Hernando Cortés had acquired dominion over far-reaching properties in Mexico and the title of Governor of New Spain. After a lengthy absence from the region, he was asked by the people of the town of Huejotzinco (located in the current state of Puebla) to initiate a lawsuit against certain members of the high court of New Spain, concerning their burdensome exploitation of the people and the unjust use of the incomes and profits secured from the town during his absence. The written legal document that ensued and the accompanying testimony -- eight sheets of handsome indigenous drawings on native paper -- are known today as the Huejotzinco Codex of 1531. More information about the document and the eight pages can be viewed here. The codex is one of the Library's "top treasures." What are the others? Look here.

A. Seated male figure, Las Bocas, Mexico. Olmec, 1100-500 B.C. Cream-slipped ceramic sculpture. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The Olmec are considered one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica and the mother culture of later societies, including the Maya. Their artifacts exhibit a high degree of craftsmanship as demonstrated in this hand-modeled figure. The flesh areas are burnished, but not the hair zone or the split kilt. Red paint touches the tip of the nose, mouth, and chin, as well as the waistline and toes. Body features are picked out with incising, and tiny drill holes mark the ears, nostrils, and mouth corners on this extremely naturalistic figure.

B. Diego Rivera, "The Creation [illustration for "Popol Vuh"], ca. 1931.Watercolor and gouache on paper. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The "Popol Vuh" recounts the religious beliefs and legends of the ancient Quiché Maya, who inhabited the highlands of Guatemala. Probably originally recited, the text is thought to have been set down

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