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Hemingway preservation effort in Cuba tribute to late Concord filmmaker, says McGovern

US Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts (center left), attended the inauguration of the Ernest Hemingway conservation center in Havana. (Ramon Espinosa/associated press)
US Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts (center left), attended the inauguration of the Ernest Hemingway conservation center in Havana. (Ramon Espinosa/associated press)Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press

Years of work by a Concord filmmaker to help preserve thousands of Ernest Hemingway’s papers and photographs reached a major milestone Saturday, as a $1.2 million facility was officially opened during a ceremony at the author’s home in Cuba.

The joint US-Cuba effort to protect Hemingway documents, which has spanned nearly two decades, was spearheaded by Jenny Phillips, whose grandfather was Hemingway’s editor.

“I don’t think this project would have succeeded if Jenny weren’t the force behind it, because Jenny was a woman who would never accept ‘no’ for an answer,” said US Representative James McGovern, who has called for improved relations with Cuba.

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On Saturday evening, officials from Boston’s Finca Vigía Foundation and Cuba’s National Cultural Heritage Council cut the ribbon on a state-of-the-art conservation center on the grounds of Hemingway’s home on a hill overlooking Havana.

The center, which has been under construction since 2016, contains modern technology for cleaning and preserving a multitude of artifacts from the home where Hemingway lived in the 1940s and 1950s.

When he died in 1961, the author left approximately 5,000 photos, 10,000 letters, and perhaps thousands of margin notes in roughly 9,000 books at the property.

But access to those papers and photographs was limited.

When Phillips and her husband, Boston Globe State House bureau chief Frank Phillips, visited the house in 2001, she had asked to see letters between the author and Hemingway editor Maxwell Perkins.

Jenny Phillips, an accomplished documentary filmmaker, activist, and therapist, who died last summer, was the granddaughter of Perkins.

But she wasn’t allowed access to the basement, where the materials were kept.

That encounter in Cuba touched off the yearslong international effort to preserve Hemingway’s house, along with his letters, documents, and photographs, while also making digital copies available elsewhere.

A Hemingway biographer called the cache of documents a “CAT scan of Hemingway’s brain,” The New York Times reported in 2002.

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Jenny and Frank Phillips helped found the Finca Vigía Foundation in 2002 — named after Hemingway’s house in Cuba — to assist in preservation efforts.

Working with McGovern, a process was launched to gain access to thousands of Hemingway’s records, including letters and photographs, and digital copies were brought to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Dorchester.

McGovern attended Saturday’s ceremony at the new facility in Cuba, during which several speakers recognized Phillips’ contributions to protecting Hemingway’s materials.

“This is really a tribute to her,” McGovern said.

“All of us, the Americans, the Cubans . . . felt her presence there,” he said.


Material from the Associated Press and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff was used in this report. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.