ANDOVER — The sun is rising on the letters, books, photographs and collectables of Nobel Prize-winning American author Ernest Hemingway.
The Northeast Document Conservation Center, 100 Brickstone Square, has been entrusted to conserve the Hemingway contents of Finca Vijia. In English it means Overlook Farm and is located on a hill on the outskirts of Havana. It is where the writer lived while in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. He wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" while at Finca Vijia and received the Pulitzer Prize for the novella in 1953.
"It's like walking into another time and place," said Walter Newman, who is overseeing the project.
The conservation center was hired by the Finca Vijia Foundation, founded in 2000 and incorporated as a nonprofit agency in 2004.
Mary-Jo Adams, the foundation's project director, said the first agreement between Cuba and the U.S. was signed in 2002, allowing the conservation of flat documents, letters and telegrams.
In addition to the preservation of documents, the foundation repaired Hemingway's beloved boat Pilar.
A new accord was signed this year so the foundation can begin to work preserving photographs and scrapbooks.
"This is very exciting because there's a treasure trove of documents that without conservation will be lost with the passing of time," Adams said.
"He saved everything, which is wonderful. Finca Vijia shows a portrait of an artist that we don't know much about. Maybe that's part of the answer we can find as we conserve the papers."
Adams said the foundation has a commercial license from the U.S. government to bring materials to Cuba, including Japanese tissue paper, ink, glue and cleansing agents used for different types of preservation. The U.S. has a had a trade embargo against Cuba and the Castro regime since the early 1960s.
Newman said one important part of the agreement is being able to bring conservationists and materials so Cuban experts can learn about preservation.
He said the farm, which was converted into a museum by the Cuban government, gives people a look at how Hemingway lived.
There's the typewriter that he used to write while standing up, his personal library with 9,000 books, photo albums, a book used as a doorstop, bottles of liquor on the table and records playing on the Victrola. In the bathroom there are markings with numbers indicating how much weight he was losing.
The project started in 1992 when the Social Science Research Council in New York brokered an agreement between the United States and Cuba allowing researchers to restore Hemingway's papers.
"This collaboration is a sign of what could be the beginning of a historic and cultural connection," Newman said.
First trip to Cuba
Walter, director of paper conservation, first went to Cuba in 1996 for consultation work on document preservation. He has traveled to Cuba to train curators at the Hemingway Museum outside of Havana. Two Cuban curators have visited Andover for training.
Cuban curators will apply the conservation techniques they learned here to preserve materials at Finca Vijia.
Staff members at the Northeast Document Conservation Center first surveyed the documents, then led workshops on preserving and caring for such materials as books with notes in the margins written by Hemingway, an album covered with a fishing net and another bound in zebra skin.
Dust jackets have suffered exposure to the light on the spine and need to be restored. A bullfighting poster Hemingway brought back from Spain is in disrepair. Also in need of work are photographs, maps and letters.
"It's overwhelming because the climate is so harsh," said Deborah Wender, director of book conservation. "Some books haven't been used and in terms of physical condition, they are holding together, although the paper is brittle." Cuba's heat and humidity can be hard on aging items made of paper.
In addition to Newman, Monique Fischer, senior photography conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, traveled to Cuba in 2004 to do a survey of the photographs, negatives, color slides and silver gel prints stored in a trunk from the Tropicana, a nightclub Hemingway frequented while in Cuba.
"It was quite a treat to go to the house and see how he lived," Fischer said. "I like history and while I was there, I thought of all the people who came to the house."
Funds from the Social Science Research Council and the Ford Foundation will pay for the preservation of the Hemingway materials. They will eventually be accessible digitally from the John F. Kennedy Museum and Library in Boston and its Ernest Hemingway Collection. The library boasts the largest single collection of Hemingway's papers.
Helping Kennedy Library collection
Once the restoration is done at Finca Vijia, the material is to be microfilmed for the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library.
Susan Wrynn is curator of the Hemingway Collection at the Kennedy Library.
The Kennedy library was able to get Hemingway's papers when his wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, donated them to Jacqueline Kennedy in 1968.
During the Kennedy administration, Mary Hemingway was allowed to visit Cuba and retrieve some of her husband's papers from Finca Vijia in Havana.
"He loved the people and he loved to fish and that was something he had in common with the people there," Wrynn said.
She said when his sons came to visit, Hemingway would provide bats, balls, mitts and even uniforms to Cuban children who loved to play baseball but did not have the money to create a team.
"He was genuine and kind," said Wrynn, former director of the Northeast Document Conservation Center.
In addition to Finca Vijia, Hemingway stayed at Dos Mundos, a hotel in the middle of Havana.
The room he stayed in has also been preserved with some of his clothing and documents.
"When you visit, you get to see a little look of him," Wrynn said of Hemingway's Cuba.
"Preserving his stay there is particularly important because the documents he wrote before and after World War II are very poor quality," she said. "If we don't preserve it we'd lose that whole period of his whole life, which is a very productive period of his life."
Wrynn said Hemingway's legacy is his style of writing in plain, simple sentences.
"His work is timeless and is still taught in our schools," she said. "Both (President) Obama and (Arizona Sen. John) McCain spoke of Hemingway as being their favorite author."
Mary-Jo Adams of M.J. Adams and Associates said there is an added bonus to the collaboration.
"The best thing about the project, though small, is a bridge to diplomacy between both countries," Adams said. "Despite the embargo, the two countries are coming together and doing this project. I think he would be pleased knowing that these countries are coming together to do this."
Born July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Ill.
American author whose best known works include the novels, "The Sun Also Rises," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "The Old Man and the Sea."
Honors include the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953.
Married to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson; Pauline Pfeiffer; Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh Hemingway.
Had three sons, Patrick and the late Jack and Gregory.
He was named among the 100 best English-language novelists of the 20th Century in 2001 by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.
About the Northeast Document Conservation Center
Established in 1973
Located at 100 Brickstone Square, Andover
Has preserved historical documents, including ones written by George Washington. Also preserved Abraham Lincoln's family Bible, Babe Ruth's personal scrapbooks, and journals carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition.