The Finca Vigía Foundation, a small American non-profit working in Havana, has navigated the shoals of US/Cuban relations to create a bi-national project that has saved one of the most significant monuments of American literature. In doing so, the Foundation has built bridges between Cuban and American professionals, won the support of both governments, and provided training for Cuban preservationists.
Hemingway loved Cuba and Cubans still love Hemingway. Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm) — consisting of a large main house, numerous outbuildings, and extensive gardens — was Hemingway’s primary home from 1939 to 1960. This is where he wrote standing at his typewriter, where he entertained, where he pitched endless innings of baseball with the neighborhood children. Most important for contemporary purposes, Finca Vigía was where Hemingway gathered the things he prized: animal trophies, fishing rods, paintings, thousands of photographs, the original manuscripts and galleys of his stories and novels, his correspondence and his journals, and a personal library of almost nine thousand volumes. No other Hemingway place — in Paris, Key West, or Idaho — comes close to the significance of Finca Vigía in Havana.
Finca Vigía is a unique cultural treasure, drawing together Cuba and the United States in its shared heritage. Ernest Hemingway is a popular and much revered literary figure in Cuba. Finca Vigía serves as a strong reminder of the influence Cuba had on Hemingway's career. This beautiful country estate was a place he lived longer than any other. Because of political differences between the two countries, little is known outside Cuba about Hemingway's years there. Finca Vigía offers the missing pieces to the puzzle, allowing scholars and the public a deeper, more complete picture of Hemingway. Yet, time is running out for the preservation of Finca Vigía and its contents.
Derelict and distressed, Finca Vigía and its treasures were, until just a few years ago, in danger of destruction from heat, humidity, pests, and the sheer passage of time. Through the Foundation’s initiative, Finca Vigía was placed on the World Monuments Fund list of 100 Most Endangered sites, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places. Due to the work of the Finca Vigía Foundation in collaboration with the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural within the Cuban Ministry of Culture, the estate and its collection are in the process of being preserved by a bi-national team of architects, engineers, and conservators. The accomplishments of the past twelve years are many.
The Finca Vigía Foundation has:
Preserved, completely, to it’s 1950’s splendor, Ernest Hemingway’s main home;
Taught best practices in museum maintenance and collection care; Restored Hemingway’s fishing boat, Pilar;
Created a cultural landscape survey and plan; Conserved more than 12,000 flat documents – letters, telegrams, manuscripts, and galley proofs representing almost 100,000 pages (most documents have multiple pages);
Conserved 4,300 photographs;
Conserved five rare Hemingway scrapbooks;
Taught the use of metadata, using the same international standards found at the Library of Congress so that the documents will be able to be retrieved by international researchers in Cuba and the United States;
Taught digital imaging techniques. Digital images of all documents and photographs were removed from Cuba in an external hard drive, stored encrypted in the EMC cloud storage platform, and a second copy was given to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston so that US scholars, school children, or Hemingway fans will have access to Hemingway’s Cuban papers;
Taught book conservation, focusing first on books with writing in the margins. All the marginalia has been digitized and is currently being assigned metadata.
However, much remains to be done in the way of archival conservation in cooperation with the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural. The conserved documents and photographs, as well as the fragile papers waiting conservation have no safe storage space. The harsh tropical climate, mold and mildew, termites, and fluctuations in temperature and humidity will, over time, destroy the irreplaceable papers.
Going forward in 2016, the Foundation has received permission from both the United States and Cuban governments to send building materials to Cuba to construct the first ever archival storage facility with wet and dry conservation laboratories using US building supplies. This building is called the Taller (workshop in Spanish).
The Taller would be the first building constructed in Cuba, using US materials and ingenuity, since the 1950's. The Cuban Ministry of Culture views this project as a possible prototype to be replicated across the country. Cuba has 330 museums. Conservation laboratories and climate controlled archival storage facilities are needed in each province, to preserve the island nation’s rich cultural legacy. More about the future here.