Friday, February 09, 2007

Hemingway Archive Project Begins

The Nature Conservancy has announced the launch of its Hemingway House archival project to document all historical and cultural items in Hemingway’s Ketchum home by mid-summer of this year. The Conservancy has owned the home—Ernest Hemingway’s last—since 1986. The archiving project is the second part of a three-phase effort to restore the home to its condition during Hemingway’s ownership.

The archiving began with a $20,000 donation from Zions Bank earlier this month.
Conservancy staff member Taylor Paslay will lead the inventory, which will begin with photo documentation of all items in the home, filed into a catalog by computer.

“We’re going to photograph and describe everything from furniture to small knick knacks,” says Paslay, who has worked since September 2005 as steward of the preserve, which includes the home and a eleven-acre natural area along the Big Wood River.

Part of the challenge, Paslay says, is determining the historical context for each of the items. There are objects in the home from Bob Topping, the original owner; Ernest and Mary Hemingway; and The Nature Conservancy’s staff, who used the preserve as an office for several years.

To determine the authenticity of various artifacts, Paslay will conduct interviews with people who knew the house the best and some who knew Ernest quite well.

“As with any historical property, the history really becomes more valuable when you have the stories and information from those who actually lived it,” says Paslay. “We have an opportunity here to gather the information on the house from those who knew it best.”

Marty Peterson, a Hemingway scholar currently working in the Office of the President at the University of Idaho, has played a vital role in assisting with the archiving effort. "The contents of the Hemingway House provide a snapshot of Ernest and Mary Hemingway's lives in Idaho,” he says “Scholars and Hemingway aficionados throughout the world view the house and its contents as an international treasure."

Right now, there are many stories about the house, but some of them are conflicting and often the information has been passed by word of mouth. Peterson has found items in the house that were brought here from Hemingway’s home in Cuba, and also has found items in Cuba with an Idaho connection, including two pronghorn heads Hemingway took in the Pahsimeroi Valley. Peterson will be returning to Cuba this year to seek additional information about the furnishings in Ketchum.

“The documentation will bring alive the real history of this place,” says Paslay. “With a computer inventory that includes the stories of each object, we will have consistent and accurate information that can be accessed by future staff and scholars.”

Interviews will be conducted this spring.

The Nature Conservancy recommitted to the Hemingway House in August 2005, when it announced plans to hire a caretaker and restore the home. Last year, as part of the first phase of the restoration, a patio was installed, windows were repaired and the exterior of the home was painted. The plumbing, roof and electricity were also all repaired and are in good working order.

“The Conservancy is about protecting Idaho’s special places for nature and people, not historical preservation” says Laura Hubbard, state director for the Conservancy’s Idaho Chapter. “The Hemingway House was bequeathed to us, and we have a duty to protect the cultural and historical value of one of America’s most beloved literary figures. Our work there is being funded by those with a particular interest in Hemingway, and it is not taking away from our conservation mission.”

The third phase will include a restoration of the home’s indoor elements, including the drapes and carpeting.

“A house naturally shows wear and tear after more than 50 years of use,” says Paslay. “It is our responsibility to ensure that not only the ongoing maintenance of an older home, but also the restoration to ensure that it retains its historical and cultural value. That requires resources, and we’re fortunate that this community values the home.”

Hubbard says that contributions like the one from Zions Bank will ensure that the Conservancy can continue to engage in restoration of the home. “It is great that corporations like Zions are playing a role in preserving the Hemingway legacy in Ketchum,” she said.

Zions Bank spokesperson said that bank officials recognize the Hemingway legacy as an important aspect of the local community. “Since 2005 Zions Bank has had a presence in the Wood River Valley, and we’ve been dedicated to the community and to preserving the arts and the history in the area,” said Wanda Allred, Zions Bank’s Wood River Valley office branch service manager. “Zions is proud to make this donation for the archival project as part of the maintenance and restoration of the Ernest Hemingway home.”

Donations are still welcomed by the Conservancy for the continuation of the project.

Editor's note (September 2012): The Hemingway House no longer has a full-time caretaker. The Conservancy does not offer public tours of the home.

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