A traveling exhibit of 26 colorful and intricate climate-focused art quilts by 22 Florida artists, “Piecing Together a Changing Planet,” survived wildfires and a hurricane to open on Wednesday evening at the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami. Continue reading »
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, whose Kislak Collection now forms the basis of a major exhibition and extensive scholarly and public programs in Washington, D.C.
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, collections care, and 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,” said Kislak.
“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,” he 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, Voiages 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.
By Sarah Block
In his work as a corporate attorney Marlon Hill represents artists and creatives in the South Florida area seeking to build a brand. Outside of the courtroom, however, Hill is an advocate for those who are grappling with issues of identity as individuals in a new land and culture.
“I feel very strongly about helping any student who is going through a process of acclimation, assimilation, and integration,” he explains in his oral history interview at the University of Miami Special Collections as part of its new Caribbean Diaspora Oral History Project. “The success of that person and that person’s family is dependent on how those three areas of immigration are. They can make or break a family.”
Hill, a Miami resident originally from Jamaica, said his own struggles in the immigration process as a teenager fueled a desire for mentoring new immigrants, as early as his college years. Today he joins a growing list of South Florida community members of Caribbean origin who are telling their stories in the series sponsored by the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.
So far, more than 20 individuals, including photojournalist Carl Juste, TV Producer/host Elizabeth Guérin, and artist Edouard Duval Carrie have taken part in the series, which spans topics surrounding their various experiences and contributions to the South Florida community in such areas as art and media, education, entrepreneurship, and activism.
“Our interviewees are individuals who are actively involved in a creative blending of their immigration experience with their lives in the United States,” said Special Collections’ Manuscripts Librarian Beatrice Skokan, who led the project, at a July 13 celebration of the series that recognized its first group of participants.
Skokan describes the series as an important initiative for Special Collections and its Caribbean Archive, which houses rare maps, books, and correspondence as well as materials that document modern life and families of the Caribbean basin. “The South Florida region, with its multiplicity of migrations, has become an ideal setting for the historical documentation of hemispheric encounters,” Skokan says. “This is about documenting the experience of people who inhabited Caribbean regions from their point of view—unedited by another’s gaze and interpretation.”
Many of the department’s most rare and historical Caribbean materials, dating back to the 1700s, were donated by some of UM’s earliest supporters, underscoring one of the region’s and the University’s enduring strengths. At his January inauguration, President Julio Frenk described a “hemispheric” aspiration as one of four defining visions for the future of the University.
The ongoing series is now accessible to students, scholars, and the general public for research on a variety of topics related to South Florida’s Caribbean diaspora. It currently features individuals of Haitian, Dominican, Bahamian, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Colombian origins, among others, with the intent of continued growth as new funding becomes available.
Interviews, which were conducted by Julio Estorino and Lucrèce Louisdhon-Louinis along with Skokan, are accessible from UM Libraries’ website. Additional oral history projects of UM Libraries include the Haitian Diaspora Oral Histories; the Cuban Heritage Collection’s Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project and Human Rights Oral History Project; and collaborations with National Public Radio’s StoryCorps, including StoryCorps Historias and StoryCorps Military Voices Initiative (carried out with the nonprofit Warmamas), which is currently in process.
Current participants of the Caribbean Diaspora Oral History Project include:
Elizabeth Baez, Artist/Educator
Firelei Báez, Artist
Ronald Bilbao, Legislative Specialist
Lucy Canzoneri-Golden, Artist/Educator
Tiberio Castellanos, Journalist
Edouard Duval Carrié, Artist
Elizabeth Guérin, TV Producer/Host
Roberto Guzmán, Linguist/Writer
Marlon Hill, Attorney
Carl Juste, Photojournalist
Fr. Alejandro López, Priest
Gepsie Metellus, Community Leader
Francisco Portillo, Immigration Activist
María Rodriguez, Activist
Ruby Romero-Issaev, Producer/Marketing Director
Nora Sandigo, Immigration Activist
Althea “Vicki” Silvera, Archivist
Patricia Sowers, Nonprofit Director
Nixon St. Hubert (DJ Nickymix), DJ/Producer
Federico Uribe, Artist
Dr. Freddie G. Young, Educator/Community Leader
This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of Arts, and the State of Florida. If you are interested in learning more about this collection, or to recommend someone for this project, please call 305-284-3247.
Event photos by Mitchell Zachs.
by Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian
October has been designated by the Society of American Archives as Archives Month, a collaborative effort by professional organizations, libraries, and archives around the nation to highlight the importance of the records we hold and to raise public awareness about the value of historical records and collections.
To celebrate Archives Month, archivists and librarians from UM Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections will be sharing stories from our experiences working in the archives at the University of Miami. The series will be called “Life in an Archive,” focusing on the stories of people who have used and/or donated to our collections.
Stories will be told from the perspective of archivists who have had the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world:
- University Archivist Koichi Tasa will talk about leading UM alumni and their family members to photographs and records from their time at UM.
- Cuban Heritage Collection Librarian Meiyolet Méndez and Archivist Natalie Baur will discuss helping researchers make new discoveries on Cuba and its diaspora.
- Special Collections Librarian Jay Sylvestre and Manuscripts Librarian Beatrice Skokan will show how artist’s books, zines, and other unique materials held at Special Collections have impacted people’s lives.
- Electronic Records Archivist Laura Capell and Visiting Archivist Emily Gibson will share stories from working with the Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records Collection.
It is interactions like these with members of our community that provide the archivists and librarians at UM Libraries with a rich set of stories to share. Stay tuned for posts this month about alumni, veterans, researchers, and donors who have allowed us to be a part of their journey. I hope that you enjoy reading our stories as much as we enjoy sharing them.
Happy Archives Month!
by Sarah Block, Libraries Communications
Raymond Bellamy clutched the iron arrow in front of his chest as he marched across the University of Miami campus in the 1970s, leading the induction ceremony for the Iron Arrow Honor Society. One of the first African-Americans to be a part of the elite organization, he wore a tribal patchwork jacket over his plain clothes, proudly holding the instrument, as tradition dictates, for tapping new members.
“Bellamy had a natural ability to lead,” said Marcia Heath, research services supervisor at the University Archives, where Bellamy’s participation in the tapping ceremony is documented in the Iron Arrow Collection, 1968–1972. The photograph of the march is featured in The Truth Marches On, an exhibition at the Otto G. Richter Library commemorating February’s Black History Month through March. The sun peaks through the trees in the background of the photograph and overwhelms Bellamy’s tall figure as he forges ahead.
Bellamy enrolled just a few years after the University embraced racial integration, making him the Hurricanes’ first African-American football player. With the University’s financial support, he also was the first African-American player to receive a football scholarship from a major university in the Southeast. A near-fatal car accident his junior year derailed his athletic career, but the following year he decided to try out for an entirely new position, student body president, and won.
The Truth Marches On is full of stories about challenges that were faced with tenacity and resilience, its name inspired by a speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the deaths of three civil rights activists.
The lead curator of the exhibition, manuscripts librarian Beatrice Skokan, says she wanted many voices to tell the stories of black history. Displayed in a case about historic literature is a quote from Sula by Toni Morrison, telling the story of a woman who is unable to channel an artistic energy, which then becomes the source of her own destruction. “It describes the importance of expression for all,” Skokan said.
The exhibition features materials about various African-American artists in the realms of music, television, pop culture—even comic books. The television case, for instance, provides mounted stills that help piece together the evolution from the days of minstrel shows and “blackface” through the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
“It shows ways in which minorities, who have been ‘othered’ historically, are now portrayed as an integral part of contemporary culture,” said Shannon Moreno, a circulation supervisor at UM Libraries. Moreno helped contribute materials from the Libraries’ circulations holdings, many of which also comprise a display for the topic of African-Americans in contemporary politics.
The case features symposia materials from Tavis Smiley’s The Covenant with Black America as well as Bell Hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman? “They are addressing the question of ‘What does it mean to be black today?’” Moreno said, adding that the discussion now also accounts for the black female experience.
The exhibition also provides reflection for a time when the topic of race was not yet discussed in the context of civil, or even human, rights. UM Libraries Special Collections contributed several original slave documents from its holdings, including handwritten letters from plantation owners on behalf of their slaves. One letter was carried by a slave identified as “Black Jesse.” It authorized the slave to work outside of the plantation, and detailed the percentage of future earnings he was obligated to send back to his master.
UM Libraries’ Cuban Heritage Collection contributed primary source materials from its own holdings, including materials that reflect Cuban anthropologist Lydia Cabrera’s work on Afro-Cuban culture during the mid-twentieth century. Cabrera’s most famous book, El Monte (The Wilderness), is an important text for practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions.
“She was studying Santeria, and she became part of the culture,” explained education and outreach librarian Lisa Baker. Cabrera’s works debunked sensationalized myths about African culture in Cuba, and helped to convey the richness of its many symbols and rituals.
The exhibition shares some of her original manuscript documents, and on the walls nearby hang celebrated portraits of the spiritual orichas, an important subject of Cabrera’s research.
Materials from The Lydia Cabrera Papers also appear in an ongoing exhibition at the CHC titled Out of the Shadows, commemorating the centenary of the birth of Afro-Cuban poet and writer Gastón Baquero, a corresponding literary force in Havana during the 1940s.
The Truth Marches On also includes materials related to Haitian Vodou, some of which partly comprise the written and photographic works of UM faculty members Kate Ramsey (The Spirits and the Law) and Maggie Steber (The Audacity of Beauty). A series of Steber’s large-format prints are featured in the exhibition, providing vivid insights into daily life in Haiti, which she will be discussing at an event presented by UM Libraries Special Collections at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 20, at Richter Library. A reception will precede the talk at 6 p.m.
“Maggie’s photos show there is beauty even in the face of great tragedy,” Skokan said, referring specifically to a photograph in the exhibition that captures a man studying by candlelight the faces of political candidates on an electoral ballot. She explained that images of candidates’ faces were used rather than a list of names due to the country’s high illiteracy rates. “That man was probably voting for the first time in his life,” Skokan said.
The election, which took place following the collapse of a thirty-year dictatorship in the late 1980s, resulted in the brief presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who attempted sweeping reforms on behalf of the country’s poor before he was overthrown by a coup. His photograph appears in the exhibition’s religion display. Steber captured him in his white suit, resting his head on a doorway after learning of a firebombing of a building that killed four children.
The wall of Steber’s photography ends with a portrait of Philomène, a young Haitian girl, posing in her village of Beauchamps. She is leaning against a school wall, her head tilted slightly to the left, as her eyes drift beyond the camera, leading the viewer to wonder where her thoughts may lie.
The Truth Marches On is on display at the Richter Library through March. The exhibition is made possible in part by the Lynda and Michael Gordon Exhibition Program.