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 has made both 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, the estate and its collection are in the process of being preserved by a bi-national team of architects, engineers, and conservators.
However, much remains to be done in the way of archival conservation and the development of a training initiative in cooperation with the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural. Of utmost priority in 2010 is the conservation of Hemingway’s vast personal library, thousands of photographs, artwork, and a unique collection of scrapbooks and travel maps.
Simultaneously, the Finca Vigía Foundation is overseeing the construction of an on-site preservation and archival workshop, monitoring the temperature and relative humidity of the home and the collection, and providing “best practice” museum advice to specialists in Cuba.