Eased Cuba Relations are Saving Ernest Hemingway’s Library
A U.S. foundation is spending $900K to add preservation facilities to Hemingway’s Havana Home.
When Ernest Hemingway departed Cuba in 1960, he left behind the kind of pack rat’s stockpile a literary scholar can only be grateful for. His home of over two decades, a white stucco affair in the rural neighborhood of San Francisco de Paula, about 10 miles southeast of Central Havana, still holds thousands of letters and photographs, about 9,000 books, nearly a fifth of which have his writing in the margins, and the telegrams announcing his Nobel Prize win. Now, thanks to the exemptions President Obama carved into the U.S. embargo against Cuba earlier this year, a Boston-based organization is sending four shipping containers worth of construction materials to Cuba, to build a preservation facility able to preserve Hemingway’s collected ephemera from the heat and humidity of the island nation.
The Finca Vigia Foundation, named after Hemingway’s home (which means “lookout farm” in Spanish), has for years worked with Cuban authorities to preserve the estate, restore Hemingway’s fishing boat, the Pilar, and conserve the author’s documents. By 2008, the organizations had digitized and microfilmed many of Hemingway’s papers, and in 2011, a collaborative effort undertaken with the Cuban government’s Office of Cultural Patrimony and the National Trust for Historic Preservation saw the home restored, in time to be photographed for The Splendor of Cuba: 450 Years of Architecture and Interiors.
After years of planning with Cuba's National Cultural Heritage Council, which runs Hemingway’s home as a museum, the Finca Vigia Foundation met with the council in Cuba last month to finalize the list of materials needed for the two-story conservation laboratory. The facility was designed jointly by U.S. and Cuban architects, engineers, and document conservators, in what Mary-Jo Adams, executive director of the Finca Vigia Foundation, calls a “wonderful piece of teamwork between the two countries.”
Though the Cuban government has somewhat loosened its control on the sale of construction materials, things like screws and PVC pipes can still be very hard to obtain there, to say nothing of high-quality materials. The $862K the Finca Vigia Foundation has spent on this effort covers everything from shipping to staffing costs, with plans that are specific down to the yard of copper wire. “We’ve worked carefully to make sure there will be no delays once construction begins,” says Adams.
If there’s a sense of urgency, it might be because, as Adams notes, “some of the papers go back to the 1910s, so by now quality is an issue, and a lot of the ink is fading.” The new facility will be near Hemingway’s estate, but “sort of in the back, apart from the historic grounds.”