The Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation is shipping about $900,000 in building materials and supplies to Cuba for the sole purpose of preserving the works of the late, great Ernest Hemingway.
“It’s historic, not since the 1950s has a building with American materials been built here,” said Finca Vigia Foundation’s executive director, Mary-Jo Adams.
Cuba will use the materials to build a state-of-the-art facility that will protect the American writer’s books, letters, and photos from disintegrating in the country’s torturous heat and humidity. Hemingway worked and lived in the Havana home, called Finca Vigia, between 1939 and 1960, There, he wrote his Nobel-prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea.
“Hemingway was a pack rat,” Adams said. “He wrote a lot of letters and often he slept on them and never sent them. It provides a glimpse into his thought process.”
Cuba’s National Cultural Heritage Council, which runs Finca Vigia, is enthusiastic about building a conservation laboratory. They were unable to do so before, because they didn’t have the funds or supplies to do it. Building materials can, after all, cost quite a bit when bought in bulk. Pressure treated fence posts, for example, cost about $10 a piece in the United States, and can result in a fence that might cost hundreds — if not thousands — depending on the size of the property.
Cuban architects, engineers, and workmen will use the American supplies, in addition to Cuban cement blocks and mortar, to build a 2,400-square-foot, two-story laboratory where Hemingway’s stacks of letters, thousands of photos, and roughly 9,000 books will be treated, taken care of, and preserved.
Though the restored, physical documents remain in Cuba, and will continue to do so, though the foundation transports scanned copies back to Boston, where they’re put on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
“It will make a tremendous difference,” said Adams. “They’ll be able to be kept for decades, if not longer.”