Library of Congress gets $10 million for early Americas gallery

Library of Congress
An artist rendering of a planned new gallery at the Library of Congress that will be dedicated to the story of the native cultures of the Americas.

WASHINGTON – The Library of Congress announced Tuesday that it has received a $10 million donation to establish a new gallery dedicated to the story of the native cultures of the Americas.

The gallery will feature the library’s Jay I. Kislak Collection of the archaeology and history of the early Americas from about 1000 BCE to modern times.

It will include artifacts, paintings and documents from the Maya, Aztec, Olmec and Inca cultures, among others, and will explore native life before, during and after the era of colonization.

The donation comes from the Kislak Family Foundation, and the gallery is slated to open in 2024, the library said in a statement.

Washington Post photo by Nikki Kahn
An interior view of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building in 2015.

In 2004, Kislak, a Miami businessman and philanthropist who died in 2018, donated more than 4,000 items from his collection to the Library of Congress.

Kislak, a native of Hoboken, N.J., had become fascinated by the American civilizations before Columbus, and was especially intrigued by the complex art and hieroglyphs of the Maya.

“My father wanted this collection to live on well beyond his own time at the finest institution in the world,” Paula Kislak, chair of the Kislak Family Foundation, said according to the statement.

The Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, said: “We are honored to continue Jay Kislak’s legacy.”

The library said 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 gallery, in the library’s landmark Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, “will give voice to the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas,” said John Hessler, the exhibition curator, according to the library statement.

“It really is a big deal,” he said in an interview Monday. “It’s gong to allow the library to really put forward its early Americas collection in a way that it has never been able to do before. “

“The gallery is going to be divided up into a number of zones,” he said, beginning with pre-Colombian “treasures” including a carved ballplayer relief panel from the ruined Maya city of La Corona, and the ornate seventh century Tortuguero box that may have held sacrificial instruments.

The next section will illustrate the native societies that first encountered Europeans – the Taino and the Nahua.

Then will come pieces by modern artists inspired by the cultures of the past.

It will show that “while the contact [with Europeans] period was violent, while there was a lot of difficulties of colonialism, that these languages, these cultures, the influences of the deep past, survive,” he said.

“There’s a whole bunch of voices coming in here,” he said. “Not only the indigenous, but African and European, everything that kind of makes up what we now consider the Americas.”