Organizational History and Mission.
The Finca Vigía Foundation, formerly the Hemingway Preservation Foundation, was founded in 2002 by Jenny and Frank Phillips and Congressman James P. McGovern. Jenny Phillips is the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway’s editor and long time friend, Maxwell Perkins.
The Phillipses traveled to Cuba in 2001 and visited Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway’s home, which had been operated as a museum since the time of his death. They toured the main house, gardens, pool, and yacht Pilar. They also saw of thousands of Hemingway documents and photographs that were in boxes and containers stored in the basement. The Phillipses recognized the priceless value of the papers to Hemingway scholarship worldwide. However, due to the political division between the United States and Cuba, these documents were inaccessible and in danger of demise.
The Phillipses enlisted the support of Congressman James P. McGovern (D Massachusetts) and began the bi-national process to save the documents and to preserve the architecture of this historic property. With Congressman McGovern’s leadership, they gained support at the top levels of the Cuban government, including President Fidel Castro who signed the agreement to undertake the preservation project. They also persuaded the Bush administration to license the project and gained support of major political figures from both parties in the US Congress.
The Finca Vigía Foundation’s mission is to provide the research and technical assistance necessary to restore and preserve Ernest Hemingway’s home and its contents at Finca Vigía in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. The Foundation is qualified by the IRS as a 501(c) 3 tax-exempt organization. Jenny Phillips and Bob Vila are the co-chairs of the Board of Directors. Congressman James P. McGovern chairs the Foundation’s Advisory Board. Author Russell Banks chairs the Board of Literary Advisors.
Hemingway and Cuba: Cultural Significance
Ernest Hemingway, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature, lived in Cuba longer than he lived anywhere else—from 1939-1960, one third of his life. His Cuban home, Finca Vigíaor Lookout Farm, was the only stable residence of his adult life. At the finca, he wrote many of his finest works - For Whom the Bell Tolls, Across the River and Into the Trees, The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, and numerous short stories and articles. At Finca Vigía he accepted the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature, and donated his gold medal to the Cuban people as a token of the kinship he felt with Cuba. Hemingway’s long and productive life in Cuba is the period that has been studied and understood the least. Hemingway once said, when asked why he lived in Cuba, that it was complicated…….but “I work as well there in those cool early mornings as I ever have worked anywhere in the world.”
Finca Vigía contains original book and short story manuscripts, letters, over 3000 photographs, his fishing tackle and gun collections, furniture, priceless art collection, map collection, scrap books, sea shell collection, and a 9000 volume library that contains rare first editions of his books and those of other famous writers. Approximately 20% of the books have Hemingway’s musings written in the margins. Not only did he write in the house, he also wrote on its very walls. Preserved under glass on the bathroom wall, are Hemingway’s penciled daily records of his weight and blood pressure, with occasional explanations of fluctuations.
Following Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 in Idaho, his widow, Mary, returned to Cuba with special permission from Presidents John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro to remove certain personal belongings and 200 pounds of documents -- which now form the cornerstone of the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Mary Hemingway gave the property to Cuba with the agreement that it become a museum for the benefit of the Cuban people.
Finca Vigía has been maintained as a museum for the past 54 years. The curators have cared for the collections admirably under difficult conditions. Despite their diligent efforts, they did not possess the financial or technical resources to maintain the home and its contents.
As his niece Hilary Hemingway has stated, “As an archaeologist regards an undisturbed tomb, Hemingway scholars feel that Finca Vigía is the final site for research, and the richest in Hemingway memorabilia.”
Recent work in Cuba: Overcoming Obstacles Generating Success
In 2005 the Finca Vigía Foundation began a partnership with The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The partnership gave us access to some of the finest preservation architects, engineers, and museum curators in the United States.
Since September 2005 we have sent more than 40 technical teams to Cuba comprised of preservation architects, structural engineers, landscape architects, document conservators, and museum collection specialists, as well as many smaller trips with one or two experts. We have shipped two containers of document conservation supplies, sent paper conservationists, librarians, and metadata specialists to Havana to train conservators in Cuba and obtained a visa for the Cuban director of conservation to come to the United States for a three week training course at The North East Document Conservation Center in Andover, MA.
Cuban preservationists have worked closely with specialists from the United States. While Cuban museum authorities did not have all the resources necessary to complete the scientific analyses necessary for comprehensive preservation of the house and its contents, our colleagues in Cuba have made significant contributions by assigning outstanding architects, engineers, conservators and arborists to collaborate with members of the U.S. technical team.
The house has been preserved. Hemingway’s yacht, Pilar, has been restored. A preliminary assessment of the landscape has been made. Construction is underway for an on-site archival workshop and administrative center.
In June 2008, the first phase of the document conservation was completed. More than 3000 flat documents were conserved, scanned, and brought to the United States where they were digitized, and converted into microfilm. In mid-May, 2008 the discs and the microfilmed copies were presented to the Consejo Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural in Havana. Later in June copies were delivered to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
In January 2010 the Finca Vigía Foundation signed a second three-year accord with theConsejo Nacional de Patrimonio to formalize the document conservation efforts between our two groups going forward. A third accord was signed in 2014.
Plans for the Future
Currently the Foundation is focused on the design, compilation of a materials list, and shipment of four containers of building supplies to Finca Vigía. The United States and Cuban technical teams plan to construct an archival storage facility with wet and dry conservation laboratories to ensure the longevity of the Hemingway papers. 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.
With very little money, and in the midst of a dauntingly difficult political climate, this project has flourished and grown.