Finca Vigia living room

Hemingway’s Home in Cuba is Honored at US Congress

Hemingway’s home in Cuba was the topic of discussion on the floor of the US House of Representatives yesterday.

Congressman Jim McGovern, a senior House Democrat and leading voice in the push for normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, spoke in honor of the Finca Vigia Foundation, based in Massachusetts.

The foundation is the result of a multi-year collaboration between Americans and Cubans to help restore and protect the home, documents, and related materials of Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia. Hemingway’s home in Cuba is located 12 miles outside of Havana, in the village of San Francisco de Paula.

Text of Congressman McGovern’s Speech:

“I rise today to honor the Finca Vigia Foundation based in Massachusetts and the extraordinary model it provides of what Americans and Cubans working together can accomplish.  Over the past 13 years, this special collaboration has restored and protected the home, documents, and related materials of Ernest Hemingway’s home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, located 12 miles outside of Havana, in the village of San Francisco de Paula.

“Like so many stories on Capitol Hill, this one began when a visitor from Massachusetts walked into my office. Jenny Phillips had an interesting story to tell because her grandfather was Ernest Hemingway’s editor and long-time friend, Maxwell Perkins.  She and her husband, Frank, had traveled to Cuba earlier that year to visit the Finca Vigia, which the Cubans have lovingly cared for and operated as a museum since Hemingway’s death. We are grateful to those Cubans. There would be no Hemingway House without their decades of devotion to his memory and legacy.

“In addition to touring the house and grounds, Jenny and Frank also saw thousands of Hemingway documents and photographs that were in boxes and containers in the basement, most unknown to writers and researchers.  They recognized the priceless value of these papers to Hemingway scholars worldwide, but they also knew that the political divide between the U.S. and Cuba made their preservation and accessibility a problem.

“Listening to her describe what was at stake, we took the first steps that would result in a wonderful bi-national process to save Hemingway’s documents; preserve the architecture and physical structure of his home; restore his famous boat, the Pilar; and conserve and protect the contents of his home, including original furniture, clothing, a 9,000-volume library, original galley proofs and manuscripts, and over 4,000 photographs. Time and tropical climates are not kind to these delicate materials.

“Partnering with the Social Science Research Council here in the U.S., the Cuban Ministry of Culture and the Cuban National Cultural Heritage Council (CNPC), a plan of action was outlined to carry out a joint preservation project in Cuba and to conserve digitized and microfilm copies of all documents located at Hemingway’s home to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and to the Cuban National Cultural Heritage Council.  In 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Eric Hershberg with the Social Science Research Council and Dr. Marta Arjona Perez of the CNPC; and witnessed by Frank and Jenny Phillips; Sandra Spanier with Pennsylvania State University and General Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project; Sean, Angela and Hilary Hemingway, who are the grandson, daughter-in-law and niece of Ernest Hemingway; President Fidel Castro; and myself.  Dozens of Cubans and Americans attended the signing, including my wife, Lisa.

curator at the Finca Vigia
Curator at the Finca Vigia. Photo by Cuba Journal

“Since then, scores of Cubans and Americans have worked together to make the dream of preserving this priceless legacy of Ernest Hemingway a reality.  This includes officials at the State Department, Commerce Department and Department of Treasury in both the Bush and Obama Administrations, who recognized the importance to America and the world of saving Hemingway’s cultural history in Cuba and helped the project navigate the requirements of U.S. regulations and license applications.

“I would especially like to note and thank the many Cuban cultural officials and preservation, architectural, museum and technical experts who made this dream come true – and I apologize if I leave anyone out.  I would like to begin with Cuban President Fidel Castro, whose unconditional support was essential to the project moving forward, as well as Josefina Vidal during her service at the Cuban Interests Section here in Washington and later following her return to Havana.  I want to highlight the role of then-Minister of Culture, the iconic Abel Prieto, who was such an enthusiastic and encouraging voice when we first began reaching out to Cuban officials in 2002, as well as his successors, Rafael Bernal and the current Minister of Culture Julian Gonzalez Toledo.

“Central to the success of the restoration and preservation of Hemingway’s house, grounds and their contents are:

  • Marta Arjona Perez, now deceased, who was the visionary voice on the project when she was president of the Cuban National Cultural Heritage Council (CNPC);
  • Gladys Collazo Usallan, who is the current president of the CNPC, as well as her predecessors Manuel Palacios Soto and Margarita Ruiz Brandi;
  • Nestor Garciaga, vice president of the CNPC and chief conservator of the Hemingway papers;
  • Gladys Rodriguez Ferrero, long associated with the Hemingway collection and buildings, and former director of the Finca Vigia Museum, has been one of the most influential voices and actors in the preservation and restoration projects;
  • Ada Rosa Alfonso, the current director of Finca Vigia Museum, and Isabel Ferrero, the current deputy director of the museum;
  • Architect Enrique Hernandez Castillo;
  • Structural engineer Livan Yanes Diaz;
  • Historic preservation architects Fernando Sanchez Rodriguez and Marco Antonio Vidal Garcia;
  • Conservators Elisa Serrano Gonzalez, Liabys Alfonso Perez, Rosalba Diaz Quintana and Roberto Abaen Siglen; and
  • Arborist Rafael Ibanez San Miguel and Manuel Valle Lopez from the Institute of Forestry Research.

“Their leadership, participation, expertise, vision and generosity have been the essential heart of this successful collaboration.  I know that I speak for many Americans when I say that we share their pride and joy in having participated, day by day, in the restoration and preservation of Hemingway’s legacy in Cuba.  I count each of them as a valued colleague and friend, and I feel honored to have had the privilege, even if in a small way, to work with them on this historic project.

“Initially known as the Hemingway Preservation Foundation, the non-profit Finca Vigia Foundation has been the critical coordinating agent of U.S. professionals and technical experts who have contributed their expertise, skills, time and passion to this major preservation undertaking.  Since 2004, the Foundation has harnessed the talents, skill and collaboration of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Social Science Research Council, Mystic Seaport and the Northeast Document Conservation Center to create teams of engineers and architects, preservationists and document conservators, botanists, builders and photographers to:

  • Architecturally restore and preserve Hemingway’s home to its 1950’s splendor;
  • Restore Hemingway’s famous yacht, the Pilar;
  • Conserve and digitize more than 10,000 documents, 4,000 photographs and five rare Hemingway scrapbooks;
  • Preserve these original documents in Cuba and bring digital images to the United States to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston; and
  • Design, in a joint U.S.-Cuban collaboration, an on-site archival storage facility with wet and dry conservation laboratories.

“There are so many individuals, U.S. companies and foundations that have made the restoration of Hemingway’s house a personal passion.  They have dedicated time and talent, materials and funding to this initiative for over a decade – and I would like to mention just a few:

“First, are the foundations whose early contributions allowed this project and the Finca Vigia Foundation to get its feet on the ground, explore with its Cuban partners how to bring this dream to fruition and put the first cornerstones in place. They are the Ford Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the Stewart Mott Charitable Trust and the Rockefeller Foundation.

“Next, I would like to recognize the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has recognized the Finca Vigia in Cuba as a U.S. Historic Preservation site – the only such site outside of the United States – and whose experience and technical expertise in preservation and cultural conservation have been invaluable.  I would especially like to note the contributions of Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust, and Paul Edmondson, current General Counsel with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Finca Vigia
Inside the Finca Vigia

“Several foundations and U.S. companies have been involved directly in the preservation projects or in providing financial support for this work.  The lead sponsor for document conservation has been the EMC Corporation, headquartered in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and especially Bill Teuber, Chris Goode and Joel Schwartz from the company.  EMC also reached out to Intel and Emulex, who also provided financial support to the project. The lead sponsors for the construction of archival storage and conservation laboratories are the Caterpillar Foundation and Caterpillar, Inc., along with the AT&T Foundation, the Ford Foundation and American Express.

“U.S. professionals who have been critical contributors and participants in the technical, document conservation, construction and architectural teams are William Dupont, former Chief Architect with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and currently a professor at the University of Texas/San Antonio; architect planners Leland Cott and Henry Moss with Bruner/Cott & Associates; structural engineer Michael Henry with Watson & Henry Associates; structural engineer Robert Silman with Robert Silman and Associates; landscape architects Patricia O’Donnell with Heritage Landscapes; and preservation architect Mary DeNadai with John Milner Architects, and Ronald Staley, construction specialist from Christman Company in Lansing, Michigan.  Also very much involved are collections conservationist Wendy Claire Jessup; and wooden boat curator Dana Hewson with Mystic Seaport.  In the first years of the project, attorney Thomas D. Herman provided invaluable pro bono advice, and Attorney Michael Gurdak and his team from Jones Day have provided essential services throughout the project.

Hemingway at the Finca Vigia
Ernest Hemingway with wife Martha sitting by the pool at the Finca Vigia

“Special recognition must also be paid to the tireless work and engagement of Mary-Jo Adams and Robert Vila.  Mary-Jo is the executive director of the Finca Vigia Foundation, and its very heart, soul and beating blood.  Without her efforts, this project would not have been possible.  Bob Vila is a builder, a well-known TV Host, especially of the PBS program, This Old House, and a recognized building consultant.  Bob has been involved on-the-ground in Cuba with overseeing every phase of the restoration of Hemingway’s house and grounds.  Along with Jenny Phillips, he is the Co-Chair of the Finca Vigia Foundation, but more than anything, we know that when Bob is on-site in Cuba, all’s right with the world –and if it isn’t, he’ll make sure that it is.  Finally, I’d like to recognize the work of Michael Mershon, who recently left my staff and who worked with me for over a decade on the Hemingway project.

“Right now, U.S. and Cuban technical teams are constructing a facility on the grounds to carry out on-site archival storage with wet and dry conservation laboratories.  Known as the “Taller” – which means “workshop” in Spanish – this facility will ensure the longevity of the Hemingway papers.  It will be the first building constructed in Cuba, using U.S. materials and ingenuity, since the 1950s.  The Cuban Ministry of Culture views this project as a possible prototype to be replicated across the country in the preservation of cultural heritage.  The construction of this critical facility is possible because of the new regulations announced by President Obama in December 2014.

“With very little money, and largely during a period of daunting obstacles created by a tense political climate, the Finca Vigia Foundation and its teams of experts, in close collaboration with Cuban professionals and experts, have done a great service for the American people, the Cuban people, and indeed, all the people of the world.  With passion and professional skill, they recognized that the life, memory, books, papers and home of Ernest Hemingway are above politics and policies, which are fleeting, while art is eternal.  They understand that the  legacy of Ernest Hemingway is a shared heritage, belonging to both Cubans and Americans.  And in one of the best models of what can happen when Americans and Cubans collaborate, they have made sure that it will never be lost.

“I am so very grateful to Jenny and Frank Phillips for walking into my office 13 years ago, and sparking a remarkable and personal journey for me.  It has offered me the rare privilege to meet and work with so many extraordinary Cubans and Americans and to participate in preserving our shared heritage around the life and artistic achievements of Ernest Hemingway.  I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.”

Hemingway’s Home in Cuba is Honored at US Congress was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Cuba Journal