Hundreds gather to celebrate landmark gift and see new home for Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation
March 20, 2018
Miami – The University of Miami celebrated Jay I. Kislak’s landmark gift to the university by formally dedicating the beautiful new Kislak Center on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Nearly 300 guests attended the event, which showcased selected objects from Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation and the newly renovated hall. Announced in January 2017, Kislak’s gift of his internationally significant collection to the University of Miami and Miami Dade College established a community partnership designed to engage local and global audiences and scholars in the appreciation and study of Florida, early American history, and the cultures of the Caribbean and Latin America.
Known and respected throughout the world as an innovative businessman, collector, and patron of education and the arts, Kislak was praised for his passion for preserving history.
“We’re thrilled to have been entrusted with this incredible collection, which celebrates the power of philanthropy and partnership with Florida as the focal point,” said UM President Julio Frenk. “This gift offers a matchless opportunity to advance new forms of scholarship and to build bridges across our colleges and community.”
“This is truly a joyous occasion for the University and especially for its libraries,” said Dean and University Librarian Charles Eckman, “We’re incredibly grateful for this amazing gift to the community of South Florida and thrilled that some pieces will soon have a permanent home in our Special Collections.”
Tom Bartelmo, president and CEO of the Kislak Organization, recognized Kislak’s expertise for identifying high-quality artifacts and noted an additional talent required of the best collectors.
“Most importantly, he knew how to put them together and tell a story,” Bartelmo said.
Paula Kislak, daughter of Jay I. Kislak and chair of the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, recalled her father’s tales of becoming a collector at a young age – starting with marbles, baseball cards and Indian Head pennies. While her father’s real estate business ventures thrived in their home state of New Jersey, the family’s move to Florida in the early 1950s was met with celebration.
While expanding his company and forging relationships with prominent business leaders, Kislak developed a curiosity for his new home, and he immersed himself in studying the history of Florida, the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. He started modestly as a collector and, over several decades, forged an important and renowned collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and artifacts on themes relating to the history, encounters, and exploration of the Americas.
“Thirteen years ago, my dad decided that he wanted to share his collection,” his daughter said, which he did, donating parts of his treasures to the Library of Congress and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. “But the beating heart of this collection has always been in Florida,” she said. “It’s where our hearts and souls are.”
UM Senior Trustee Chuck Cobb noted the extraordinary significance of the collection, and quoted former Librarian of Congress James Billington, who once referred to the Kislak Collection in the Library of Congress as “the best gift to the United States ever received from two individuals (Kislak and his wife Jean).”
In appreciation for his gift, and as a demonstration of UM Libraries’ commitment to further and enhance the collection, Kislak was presented with a rare map, which will be added to the collection in his honor. The map documents the earliest U.S. expedition to the Arctic, conducted in 1850 in the effort to locate Sir John Franklin and his crew who had gone missing.
Located at the Otto G. Richter Library in the heart of the Coral Gables campus, the Kislak Center at the University of Miami offers a scholarly space for research. In addition to the Kislak Collection, the center houses the extensive holdings of UM Libraries Special Collections and University Archives. The great hall also provides a welcoming venue for lectures, debates, conferences, workshops, concerts, plays and other university and community events.
Currently under construction, the center’s mezzanine level is scheduled to open by early 2019, and will include the Kislak Gallery of Exploration and Discovery, a conference room and curatorial suite.
“Today is just a glimpse of what is to come,” said Bartelmo. “The Kislak Center will be home to exhibitions, programs and other events that will make the collection widely accessible to students, scholars and visitors from all over the world.”