42nd Annual Meeting – Photographic Materials Session, May 30, “Preserving Ernest Hemingway’s Photograph Albums and Scrapbooks at the Finca Vigía,” by Monique Fischer and M. P. Bogan

Finca Vigía, Ernest Hemingway’s Cuban home from 1939 to 1960, is open to the public and situated at the top of a windy hill with tropical conditions and occasional hurricanes. It holds not only much of the original furnishing from the time of Hemingway’s residence, but also a large part of Hemingway’s personal library and archive, including manuscripts, letters, over 3000 photographs, scrapbooks, photograph albums, art collections, maps and a 9000 volume library.
Preservation at the Finca Vigía is a balancing act. For instance, the staff tries to mitigate some of the heat and humidity by closing doors and blinds, but this disappoints people who have made the pilgrimage to Hemingway’s house, only to find they cannot look inside. The current director of the house wants to “preserve the soul of Hemingway,” presenting the house as much as possible as if Hemingway might still be living there. This means that many intermediary measures for protecting the objects, such as removing the objects altogether from their environment, are often not options.
NEDCC (the Northeast Document Conservation Center) has been working with Finca Vigía for over ten years. They began with a preservation assessment, followed by a condition assessment of the book and paper materials. Conservators from NEDCC visit Cuba for one week every six months. They can bring only the materials they will use—no extra—so treatment and rehousing need to be carefully estimated and planned. The NEDCC’s role in this partnership is to provide training and advice.
Finca Vigía’s paper conservator, Néstor Álvarez Gárciga, carries out treatment, with the assistance of interns and conservation assistants. The conservation space is two small rooms, one under the kitchen. Electricity can be shut off without warning, and running water can be in short supply.
Once M.P. Bogan had laid out the context and obstacles of conservation at Finca Vigia, Monique Fischer then described individual treatments for four volumes surrounding Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize for Old Man and the Sea and the subsequent movie production. She first addressed the treatment of a storyboard book for the movie the Old Man and the Sea. It is a volume of diazotypes with gouache hand-coloring. Her research found that storyboard books were sometimes distributed as thank you presents to individuals involved in the making of films, but both the extent of the hand-coloring and her attempts to find similar albums suggest that this may have been a unique gift to Hemingway. There was mold-bloom visible on the volume’s binder, and the gouache was found to be very water soluble. In this treatment there was a delicate balance between caring for the physical stability of the materials and keeping the book as close to its original state as possible. In the end, the binder and the diazotypes were surface cleaned. The curator made the “uncomfortable decision” to allow the conservator to remove the diazotypes to storage, digitize them and place copies in the book in their place. (See the following day’s presentation on environmental concerns for the exhibition of diazotypes).
The next album discussed was the photograph album Homenaje Nacional (national tribute), which is on permanent display. The photos are spot-adhered onto pages that are held together in a post-bound album. The album was treated through removing the photos, washing, digitizing, reassembling with new screw posts, and will be put back on permanent display. Treatment was complicated by the lack of both a consistent source of pure running water and the amount of blotter that a typical U.S. conservator might go through in washing a volume. While the Finca Vigía may lack pure running water and a sink in the conservation lab, it has plenty of moisture in the air, and Néstor Álvarez Gárciga used the water gathered by the dehumidifiers, working in a tray outside, where the light was good. Néstor Álvarez Gárciga also used the star of this year’s Book and Paper Group Tips Session—Tek-wipe—as an absorbent and washable alternative to blotter.
For the volume of congratulatory telegrams, a different approach was taken, as the fragile telegrams were considered the most important original part of the album. The album was disassembled, removing the telegrams and the paste downs, and reassembled onto Permalife paper. The album was then placed into a 3-flap wrapper.
The most complicated treatment of the four was the Recuerdo 1956, also known as the fishnet album, after the fishnet wrapped around its cover. It was made by Hemingway’s wife Mary Welsh, and included the full gamut of album problems, such as colored pages, detaching pages, and newspaper clippings, photographs and even some film strips, many of which were attached with rubber cement and tape. The items were removed and the adhesive locally reduced as much as possible with acetone and ethanol. The pages were all washed and guarded with toned Japanese paper and then the items spot adhered in their original places. During conservation the volume was also digitized. One unusual feature of the album was its inclusion of film strips. These were removed from the cardboard mounts, and Néstor Álvarez Gárciga used the film sprockets as places to put Mylar clips so that the film strips can now be picked up and properly viewed with transmitted light without touching the film itself.
This talk presented the difficult balance between caring for the items as physical objects and allowing the public a glimpse into Hemingway’s home life and the items that surrounded him. Néstor Álvarez Gárciga and the NEDCC team have shown what can be achieved even in the face of formidable obstacles.

AIC Cuba Trip Travelog Part 3

29 January 2014 (Day Six)
Travel_Cuba_20140129103712In the morning, we meet our guide for the next few days, Nancy Benitez , the former director of the City’s Conservation department and an active voice in preservation in the city.  We tour historic center of Trinidad, Cuba’s second UNESCO World Heritage site and a bastion of Caribbean vernacular earthen architecture.  We toured historic mansions now turned into museums, including the Palacio Cantero and the architecture museum, as well as public squares where pilot conservation projects have been carried out, and visits to a couple private homes representing all stages of preservation of the regional art and architecture.  After lunch at El Jigue, the group travelled to Manacas Iznaga historic sugar plantation, founded by Bayamo residents and comprising one of the most important sites in the rural southern coast of Cuba.  It’s part of the UNESCO world heritage site of Trinidad and the Valley of the Sugar Mills. After the tour, we ended day with a cocktail, la canchanchara, a drink made from honey, lime and aguardiente (brady) and made famous in the 1860s by Mambises, Cuban freedom fighters, who were battling Spain for Independence. We had the drink at a bar of the same name and which happens to be the oldest building in the city, dating from the early 17th century.
30 January 2014 (Day Seven)
Travel_Cuba_20140129122802Early in the morning, we departed Trinidad for the Caribbean colonial city of Cienfuegos. Before getting to the town, we stop along the way at the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden, which was founded by Harvard botanists in the very first years of the 20th century and home to more than 2000 species of plants on 240 acres of land just outside the city. After the gardens, we visited the historic center of Cienfuegos, guided by its chief preservation architect, Iran Millan.  During the tour, we visited the Parque Martí, center of the city, and see several important buildings including the 1889 Tomas Terry Theater, one of Cuba’s three exemplary 19th century regional theaters. After the tour, we had lunch in at Villa Lagarto, which sits at the end of the in the point that juts out into the Bay of Cienfuegos.  After we lunch, we departed Cienfuegos for Havana, but this time we were able to take Cuba’s one and only high speed roadway, the Autopista Nacional, which stretches from Havana to the small town of Taguasco in the center of the country and where it abruptly stops (ie the money ran out). Rarely is any traffic encountered on it, and we arrived at our hotel in Havana after a short four hour bus ride…made a little shorter after we “opened of the bar.”
31 January 2014 (Day Eight)
Chief of Mission ReceptionAfter many of us awakened to a view of the bright blue waters of the Straits of Florida outside the windows on the Malecόn side of our hotel, the Hotel Nacional, we began our time in Havana with a tour of the four main colonial plazas of Old Havana, Cuba’s first and most significant UNESCO World Heritage site, starting at the Plaza de Armas, where we will see the oldest Spanish fortress in the Americas, a Greco- Roman style Neo-classical temple that marks the spot where the first mass and town council meeting were held in 1519, and the Palace of the Captains Generals, seat of government from 1776-1930. From there we went to the Plaza de le Catedral before going to Plaza de Francisco and ending at the Plaza Mayor, where we had lunch at a restaurant called Santo Angel. After lunch, we went back to the hotel where we quickly freshen up for our visit to the residence of the Chief of Mission of the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, where we were received by the Chief of Mission (“Ambassador”), who updated on the current policy of the United States towards Cuba. We were then able to explain the nature of our trip and plans for future engagement with Cuban conservation professionals before posing for a photograph to commemorate the occasion.  To celebrate the gradual thawing of relations between our two countries and toast to future progress, the group after the reception retreated to El Floridita bar, where we partook in some liquid refreshment, much like Hemingway did when the bar was one of his favorite watering holes. Popularizing a drink known as the daiquiri by notoriously downing many of the cocktails himself, Hemmingway concocted her own preferred version, which calls for grapefruit instead of lime juice and maraschino liquor instead of simple syrup and which they still blend up batches of for tourists who come to pay homage to the author who now lends his name to the drink.  Dinner that night was at San Cristobal, one of the top private restaurants in the city.
1 February 2014 (Day Nine)
Travel_Cuba_20140201152213After a visit the Decorative Arts Museum, we took a walking tour of Centro Habana, which centered on the Parque Central area, stopping at such sites as the Capitolio, Hotel Inglaterra, Bacardi’s glazed terracotta-clad Art Deco headquarters, Sloppy Joe’s bar, and the Paseo del Prado—all of which shows the development which occurred outside the walls in the 19th century. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop for a quick drink at the old Barcardi, where they do actually serve up rum-based drinks–none of which, it almost goes without saying, are made with liquor  under the label of the same name. However, that was okay, because we had to get to lunch at Ajiaco in the lovely little fishing town of Cojímar just outside the city. Cojímar is also home to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s house, which we toured later that day.
2 February 2014 (Day Ten)
Travel_Cuba_20140202151052In the morning, we visited the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes with a tour of the Cuban modern art collections by one of the museum’s curators. The museum is in a striking modernist building which was completed in 1953 and exemplifies the combination of sculpture with architecture in Cuban mid-century modernism.  We then visited Havana’s Cementerio de Colόn. Laid out between 1871 and 1886, the cemetery includes more than 500 mausoleums, chapels and family vaults, sculpted in bronze, granite, marble and limestone by leading Cuban and European artists. After the cemetery, we went to the Plaza de la Revolucion before making our way to the hotel Riviera, a perfectly preserved masterpiece of mid-century modern architecture. To cap of our mid-20th century-themed morning, we had lunch at paladar called Vista al Mar, which is in a beautiful oceanfront house overlook the Straits of Florida in Havana’s famed Miramar neighborhood. The rest of the afternoon, the group went to the craft market at Antiguos Almacenes San José or explored the city on their own. The group gathered at the paladar Atelier that night before going to Tropicana.
3 February 2014 (Day Twelve)
Travel_Cuba_20140202123331On our last full day in Cuba, we had a chance to visit the Cuba’s national art school, El Instituto Superior de Arte or “ISA.” Built in 1961 on the grounds of a former golf club, the school was one of the earliest and now recognized best public works projects begun by the Revolucion. A personal project of both Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, the art school reflects the flush of utopian idealism that characterized the revolutionary movement at that moment in its history. Only later in the decade, when Cuba adopted a more Soviet-style functionalist approach, did the art schools begin their decline—all of which is detailed in the recent documentary “Unfinished Spaces.”  Because Cuba now allows artists and musicians to earn a living in hard currency (CUCs) abroad and keep most of it themselves, these professions have become some of the top professions in the country, making placements at the art school some of the most coveted in the country among its young people. This has brought about a resurgence for the school—not to mention, it also makes for great art, which you can buy from students at the school. After lunch at El Aljibe, known for its amazing roasted chicken, the afternoon was free for the group to spend on its own. Some took a ride in one of the old American convertibles from the 50s. Others took a dip in the hotel’s pool, and others who had not yet dropped from all the shopping thus far went to spend their remaining foreign currency. Dinner that night was in the famed paladar La Guarida, which in addition to being one of the oldest in Havana was also the set of the seminal masterpiece of Cuba cinema, Strawberry and Chocolate. Made in the early 90s, the film takes place in Havana, Cuba in 1979 and  tells the story of a growing friendship between a university student and a gay cultural functionary unhappy with the Castro regime’s treatment of the LGBT community as well as the censorship of culture.  The film fundamentally changed the way Cubans both inside and outside the government viewed their LGBT comrades, paving the way for the pro-LGBT reforms currently being considered in the government today.
4 February 2014 (Day Thirteen)
Travel_Cuba_20140204164118All good trips end far too soon, and ours ended early, early in the morning after we checked of the hotel and headed to the airport where we would spend a few hours before boarding a very short charter flight back to Miami and back to reality. Perhaps because of the time warp that is Cuba or the breakneck pace that is our modern, American way of life, our time on the island, though impossible to forget, would soon become a distant memory. As sad as this may sound, it is kind of the way most trips to this place go. The saving grace in this is that it just makes it easier to return, and return often, each and every time.

AIC Cuba Trip Travelog Part 2

AIC Cuba 2014
From Jan. 24 to Feb. 4 a group of 19 AIC members went on a research trip to Cuba.  Over the next week we will be posting about our experiences. Below is an account of  days 3-5. Join us on our journey.

26 January 2014 (Day Three)
In the morning, we toured Santa Efigenia Cemetery, a necropolis second only to Havana’s Cristóbal Colón in importance. Created in 1868 to accommodate the victims of the War of Independence and a simultaneous yellow-fever outbreak, it includes many great historical figures among its more than 8,000 tombs, most notably the mausoleum of José Martí, the intellectual author of Cuban independence. Marti’s imposing tomb is positioned so that his flag-draped casket receives daily shafts of sunlight. A round-the-clock guard of the mausoleum is changed every 30 minutes, amid much pomp and ceremony. Other notable Cubans buried at Santa Efigenia include Cuba’s first president Tomás Estrada Palma (1835–1908); Emilio Bacardí (1844–1922) of the famous rum dynasty; the Spanish soldiers who died in the battles of San Juan Hill; and Compay Segundo (1907–2003), of Buena Vista Social Club fame. Afterward, we toured the Moncada Barracks, a 1938 military garrison where on July 26, 1953, more than 100 revolutionaries led by a little-known revolutionary named Fidel Castro took on Batista’s troops in a spectacularly failed action that also happened to spark the Cuban revolution. Housing a museum which commemorates both Santiago’s most famous political event and the beginnings of the Revolution, the building contains a scale model of the barracks plus artifacts, diagrams, and models of the revolution. After lunch at Aurora, we visited one of Santiago’s most important and best kept museums: the Carnival museum. Then the group went to see San Juan Hill. Later, some of us took salsa “lessons” at the Casa de la Trova. It was more like a crash course, which when out on the dance floor became for some of us more like train wreck. We at least got in our exercise that day, which was helpful to counter the mojitos we had begun to down twice daily. A dinner, we gathered again at the Trova (the scene of the crime from the afternoon) for more music and this time a lot less dancing.
after day 3
27 January 2014 (Day Four)
We left Santiago early in the morning, stopping first for a visit to the Basilica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, or “El Cobre,” which is a 1926 church near a copper mining town that honors Cuba’s patron saint—La Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre. This beautiful church sits in a beautiful valley, and as befitting a church dedicated to a patron saint, the church is a place of pilgrimage for many Cubans. It also became a place of pilgrimage for us as well. Yudi, our Cuban logistical coordinator for the trip, suggested we all light a candle for the renewed relationship between our two countries, and regardless of whether we were religious or not, each of us lit one. It will take more than lighting a candle to finally end the embargo, but at least for now, we could recognize the thaw in our relations that has occurred so far and not focus so much on the long road of diplomatic work we have before us. Leaving El Cobre and our flickering candles behind, we headed for another place of pilgrimage for Cubans—this one more secular in nature. Bayamo, the second of the seven cities founded by Diego Velazquez in Cuba in 1513, has a town center that dates from 19th century. It also happens to be not only the birthplace of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, the general who led the Cuban war of independence against Spain but also the birthplace of Cuba’s national anthem, the “La Bayamesa,” which at regular intervals can heard blaring across the loud speakers positioned in the main square. After visiting the church where the anthem was first performed, we had lunch at a restaurant called La Bodega, which was right behind the church and overlooked a lush ravine with a shallow stream. From there we made our way to our accommodations that night on the beautiful Playa Santa Lucia, a beachside hotel that is the only place near Camaguey with enough lodging for a group of our size. Very few groups on cultural visits see these resorts, which are mostly filled with Canadians escaping brutal winters up North, and this became apparent by the quality of the back road we used to get there (something tells me the one directly from the nearby airport is much smoother). Thankfully, our guides were prepared for the journey and “opened the bar” on the bus, which made the ride a little smoother if not “jovial.”
after day 4
28 January 2014 (Day Five)
In the morning, we traveled to Camaguey, a UNESCO World Heritage city founded in 1528. Sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan in the 17th century, an effort was made to confuse future marauders by rebuilding the city with an unusual labyrinthine city plan, which we navigated with the help of bicitaxi drivers who took us around the historic center, accompanied by the staff of the city’s conservation training facility and architectural preservation team. After a delicious lunch in Camaguey at La Campana de Toledo, we left for the colonial city of Trinidad, where we stayed in what are known as casas particulares or, as we would call them, “bed and breakfast.” After dinner at our Casas Particulares, we gathered for an evening of music at Trinidad’s own Casa de la Trova.
after day 5
Keep tuned for more blog posts on this amazing trip…

AIC Cuba Trip Travelog Part 1

AIC Cuba 2014From Jan. 24 to Feb. 4 a group of 19 AIC members went on a research trip to Cuba.  Over the next week we will be posting about our experiences. Below is an account of the first two days. Join us on our journey.
24 January 2014 (Day One)
Having flown in from various (mostly snowy) places the day before, the group of 21 members and staffers gathered in the lobby of the Sofitel Miami in the early morning hours (4am!)  to board shuttle buses that would take us to the airport. It would be a short flight–only an hour–but where we were going would be a world away from where we were. Santiago de Cuba, our destination, sits on the eastern side of the island of Cuba, a mere 500 miles from the shores of South Beach, Florida, and with a population of almost 500,000 is its second largest city also capital of a province of the same name. One of the first seven cities founded in Cuba and older than Havana itself, Santiago is surpassed only by nearby Baracoa and Bayamo in age and is home to many of Cuba’s most famous historical sites.
After arriving at Antonio Maceo International Airport–named for the famous general of the Cuban-Spanish wars of the latter 19th century—we quickly passed through passport control with little more than a smile and a welcome-to-Cuba-I-hope-you-enjoy-your-visit nod to our American passports. After meeting our Cuban guides and boarding our Havanatur bus, we immediately headed out to Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca. Known more commonly as El Morro, the castillo (or “fortress”) is a picturesque fortification from the 16th century that sits about 6 miles south of the city and guards the Bay of Santiago. Inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997, it is considered the best preserved example of Spanish New World military installations as based on Renaissance principles. It affords some outstanding views, too!
Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca
After lunch on the site, we checked in at the Melia Hotel, a post-modern style Spanish chain hotel that towers over the city to the east of historical center. As we had all been up so early in the morning, we gather later for a light dinner at the hotel, and then we debated about going out to experience some of Santiago’s greatest cultural heritage: its musical traditions. Thankfully, after a mojito or two, there were enough festive travelers who were keen to explore the city’s music, which is part of its complex and layered cultural blending. So using a tip from a local, we decided to check out the club Patio de Los Dos Abuelos, a small open-air place where a few locals and tourists freely mixed, dancing (some better than others) under the night sky. A resident band Son del Tres was playing, and after a few impromptu lessons from the bandleader, we joined in the whirling fun. As the birthplace of many extraordinary musical traditions given to the world, Santiago de Cuba is truly the best place to experience them.  Some of the country’s best musicians, including Buena Vista Social Club members Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Eliades Ochoa, and even the Cuban American bandleader Desi Arnaz, hail from the city.
25 January 2014 (Day Two)
After feasting on a huge breakfast buffet at the hotel, which caters mostly to European tourists and consequently had a Cuban take on everything from churros to crepes, we went to the office of the historian of the city, where we listened to an introduction to the city. After the lecture, we began our walking tour of Santiago’s historic center, guided by the city’s historian and chief preservation architect. After the tour, we had lunch in the historic center at Los Primos Twice, a great paladar (or private restaurant) where we feasted on shrimp in creole sauce and pork in sweet and sour sauce, as well as the haunting, beautifully sung songs of Chely Romero, a mainstay of the Santiago music scene. After lunch, the Archbishop of Santiago hosted our group at the city cathedral to learn more about the restoration work going on there and in the diocese’s other churches undertaken by a joint Cuban-Italian team. The work they are doing is a rare example of successful conservation being done outside the government system. Dinner that night was at Compay Gallo.
city cathedral

Keep tuned for more blog posts on this amazing trip….

AIC’s 40th Annual Meeting, Recovery and Conservation of the Textile Collections at the National Museum of Music, Alina Vazquez De Arazoza

Alina Vazquez de Arazoza is one of 20 Latin American colleagues who were able to join us at the 40th Annual AIC meeting thanks to funding from the Getty. Ms Vazquez requested that our colleague Amparo Ruedas read her paper to the TSG.

In 1971, a former Colonial mansion located in Havana was converted to the National Museum of Music. It contains, among its diverse collections, costumes of prominent Cuban musicians and banners from musical groups. The majority of collection dates to the 20th century, but several important 19th century items are also preserved. Among these is the glove of Perucheo Figueredo, the author of Cuba’s national anthem, and great great grandfather of Amparo Ruedas, giving added meaning to this presentation.

The renovation of the museum building provided the opportunity for the author to survey the collection, undertake conservation treatments prior to rehousing and exhibition, and do biographical research into the artists represented by the collection. She worked in collaboration with CENCREM (Centro Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion y Museologia) which provided a facility and analytical assistance, all at no charge!

In general the collection was in fair condition. Items were dirty, distorted from poor storage, and dry, despite the tropical climate and lack of adequate environmental conditions. Humidity had taken a toll on some items, however, as seen by corroded metal trims, associated staining, some water damage with dye migration, and some insect damage. Much of the collection also exhibited yellowing.

The author undertook analysis of items in order to prepare a proposal for conservation. SEM results confirmed fiber content of organic and metal components. Much of the collection is hand made, though industrially produced items and commercial labels were noted and researched. The presence of prior repairs were documented, as well as types of adhesives that had been employed. Parameters of the conservation project were set out identify which textiles needed surface cleaning, aqueous or solvent cleaning, which prior repairs would be reversed.

What impressed me most about Ms Vazquez’s and her project are the advanced level of treatment skills, storage and conservation materials, analytical tools and connoisseurship compared to other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean that I have visited. This conservation project was equal in all ways to similar projects undertaken in the United States, which happily dispelled my notions of the ability of Cuban conservation professionals to achieve a high level of skill and accomplishments.

AIC Member Research Trip to Cuba 2011

Plaza de San Francisco in Havana

When I first heard of AIC’s Members Research trip to Cuba, my initial reaction was ‘Why Cuba?’  Of all the places to experience conservation, what would a Caribbean island that has been isolated from the outside world have to offer?   Not knowing what to expect, and curious to learn more about a place that was restricted for Americans, I along with some 30 other AIC members, signed up and put myself in the hands of our fearless leader Rosa Lowinger.  Rosa, a well respected conservator (and author), was born in Cuba and relocated to the US following the embargo.  She was an ideal resource and had planned an ambitious schedule covering museums, conservation labs, local artists, architecture, as well as an Angels Project in Historic Trinidad.

A well maintained and adored 1950s Plymouth taxi.

To really understand the allure of Cuba for a conservator, look no further than the iconic 50s cars that rumble down the street. Despite the embargo and a lack of supplies, the Cubans have managed to keep their beloved American made Buicks, Pontiacs, and Fords in working condition over 50 years since they were produced.  As I sat in the back of an electric blue 50s Plymouth taxi, I listened to the driver speak passionately about how his grandfather, father, and now he, had maintained it over the years using only original Plymouth parts.  The same holds true for conservation in the country.  Although basic supplies like paint brushes and B-72 are difficult to obtain, conservators in Cuba take pride in their history and have managed to preserve it over the years.

A paintings student shows us his research project.

Conservators are well respected in Cuba.  Similar to the American training programs Cuban conservators train at the graduate level with internships/fellowships along the way.  There are also highly skilled craftsmen who attend trade schools with apprenticeships.  The Cuban government funds all conservation projects and established National Center for Conservation, Restoration and Museology in Havana (CENCREM). We visited the well equipped labs which included Paintings, Paper, Objects, and Book conservation along with Conservation Sciences (for more pictures).  The most impressive aspect of the labs for me was a Biological Lab, set aside to identify and address two of the biggest problems faced by conservators in Cuba:  mold and termites.  However as impressive as the CENCREM labs were, not everywhere in Cuba was so well equipped.

A Graduate Student shows us the Paper Lab.

A ceramics conservator shows us his inpainting media for porcelain.
Rosa Lowinger pictured with Trinidad conservator Nancy Benitez overlooking Valley of the Sugar Mills

On the 5th day of our trip, we hit the road for a four hour bus journey to Trinidad, designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, and the site of our Angels Project.  Trinidad, located near the Valley of the Sugar mills, was a major center for the sugar trade until the 1850s when it was surpassed by nearby Cienfuegos.  From 1850 until the 1950s, Trinidad experienced a period of isolation and incidentally did not experience the growth of hotels and other buildings like Havana.  Instead Trinidad is a well preserved testament of Colonial Cuban architecture and art.  Conservators in Trinidad were trained like those in Havana and had labs for Paintings, Objects, and Archaeological conservation (Paper was done elsewhere). However conservators in Trinidad were very limited in resources and supplies in comparison to CENCREM.   The aim of our Angels project in Trinidad was to learn how conservators there dealt with these limited resources and aid them with the donation of supplies and suggestions from our own experiences.

A typical scene on the cobble stone streets of Trinidad.

The Plaza Mayor in Trinidad
Supplies donated by AIC members to Trinidad Conservators.

The conservators in Trinidad received donated books, publications, emergency management tools, inpainting brushes, gilding supplies, dry pigments, small hand tools, a large jar of B-72, along with other helpful supplies.  The group divided amongst ourselves into areas of specialties and went to address projects the conservators there were working on.  I, as an objects conservator, went to the archeological lab where there were objects labeled in boxes on shelves and large objects in a tub desalinating from burial in distilled water.  The conservators were interested in finding ways to reduce the water changes since distilled water was not the easiest to find.  Nancy Odegaard took a trip to the chemical room and came back with a simple spot test for chlorides recently presented and published with WAAC.

Other helpful advice came from the architectural and outdoor sculpture conservators who helped design a mount to elevate a colonial canon that was currently stored on the ground. Paintings conservators examined and suggested treatment procedures for a large canvas with tears, and paper/book conservators worked together with ethnographic conservators to address a painting on damaged leather. By the end of the day both the Cuban and American conservators felt a lot had been gained from our visit, and are hopeful that future collaboration will be possible.

AIC Paintings conservators examine a large oil on canvas in Trinidad.

The end of a successful Angels Project, and the beginning of collaboration with Cuban conservators.

For more pictures and video from the our visit to the Guanabacoa Museum,  click here,  and see AIC’s photos.