Ilya Leskov’s love affair with the city of Paris began with a map. As a child growing up in Moscow, Leskov read the work of writers such as Dumas and Hugo, and often traced the exploits of his literary heroes across a map of the city he’d taped to the back of his front door. Earlier this month, Leskov’s passion paid off — he was awarded first prize in the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting on April 14.
Leskov, a graduate student in the Harvard Medical School M.D.-Ph.D. program, and second prize-winner Matthew Zimmerman ’09, received their awards in a ceremony at Houghton Library. Named for Philip Hofer ’21, the annual awards honor students whose collection of books or works of art fulfill “the traditions of breadth, coherence, and imagination” exemplified by the former Houghton curator.
Judges chose Leskov’s collection of antique maps of Paris, which date from the 15th to the 19th century, for its “breadth and the careful detail with which he analyzed each map,” said Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, and one of five judges who evaluated the entries.
Zimmerman “impressed the judges with the care with which he selected both the specific works and individual copies” included in his collection, “Faulkner, the Fugitives, and Their Heirs: Twentieth Century Authors of the Tennessee Valley.”
Though his love of Paris began early in life, Leskov said his collection of Paris maps didn’t start until much later — when he began residence as a tutor in Lowell House. His desire for an original — not a reproduction — antique map of the city led him to the online auction site eBay. Within weeks, he’d purchased two maps, one large enough to decorate an entire wall and another barely larger than the palm of his hand.
Leskov was hooked, and, armed with a reference work that cataloged every map of Paris produced before 1800, he eventually assembled a collection of more than two dozen maps, covering a wide range of historical periods.
“The goal of this collection is to understand the evolution of the city of Paris and its representations, from the Renaissance to the modern times, so as to gain insight into the changing worldviews and values of the city’s inhabitants and cartographers,” he said.
Likewise, Zimmerman’s passion for his subject started early in life — when he read William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” for the first time as a high school freshman. Spurred by the book, and living in southern middle Tennessee at the time, near both Sewanee and Nashville, where many Tennessee Valley authors lived, he began collecting from local bookstores.
“In particular, I’ve focused on the ‘Fugitive poets’ of Nashville and the novels of Faulkner, as well as a couple of more contemporary authors from Knoxville who show the influence of those earlier authors,” Zimmerman said. “As a senior, it was a distinct pleasure to have time to apply for the Hofer Prize and devote some thought to the past and future of my collection.”