by Francine Snyder
Day Five: Cuenca
Friday, October 2, 2015
The last official day in Cuenca started with as many others had – with one of my favorite Ecuadorian non-archives-related highlights: tropical juice. Available in an unexpected bounty, I had made it my mission to try as many different types as I could during our ventures and had downed many glasses of Maracuyá, Babaco, and Guanabana, throughout the week. The hotel’s offering of melón and Fresca were not nearly as exotic but its bottomless pitcher made up for that in spades.
Our morning was dedicated to repository visits and our first stop was the Museo de las Conceptas. Founded over 450 years ago, the still-active Cuenca convent opened the museum in 1986. We met with Alexandra Kennedy Troya, Ecuadoran art historian, who catalogued the Conceptas archive twenty years ago. The Conceptas have since closed their archives and her book, Monasterio de las Conceptas de Cuenca: catálogo del archivo historico, is the only remaining public documentation of its contents. The discussion revolved around the history of the Conceptas as well as importance of their and other religious archives. In the 17th, 18th, and even 19th centuries, religious orders controlled significant property and finances. Their collections often contain unique documentation on loans, mortgages, land transactions, and deeds. Access is critical for historians; however, not guaranteed. Religious orders have no obligation to keep their collections open to the public and access often shifts dramatically depending on changing authority. We discussed with Kennedy Troya how this impacted scholarship and similar groups within the United States that works with religious archives. Following the discussion, we toured the museum, which features religious iconography and art works from the Conceptas’ history, with Kennedy Troya as our tour guide.
Next stop was the Casa de la Cultura Núcleo del Azuay Archives where we were met by Pablo Matute, archivist. As one of the least fluent members of our group, I struggled with comprehension throughout the week particularly as discussions became more detailed. While he couldn’t have known, Matute did me a favor by treating us to our first and only formal presentation, a fully-illustrated prezi talk, discussing the history and management of the collections. This was followed by a visit to the stacks where we saw Conquistador documents on the founding of Cuenca in the early 1200s and beautifully illustrated maps with land grants.
We broke for lunch (more juice!) then headed to the library at the Museo Pumapungo for an afternoon conference and reception with historians and archivists of Cuenca. The conference was opened by Judy Blankenship, our host, photographer, and honorary Itinerant Archivist, and hosted by René Cardoso, director of the Museo Remigio Crespo Toral. After a 30 second* to 10 minute introduction by each Itinerant Archivist, the keynote speaker, Juan Chacón, historian, spoke about the importantance of developing standards and best practices nationally for Ecuador. Chacón, as quoted in Diario El Mercurio, a Cuenca local newspaper, states that “en el Ecuador no existe un sistema de archivos, lo que existen son archivos desconectados y mal administrados.” There were mummers of agreement and the conference ended with a reception full of excited discussions.
Many of us thought that would be the end of our activities; however, unbe
knownst to us, that night happened to be the second night of the Festival de Arte de Acción de Cuenca. Several of us decided to head to the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno (MMAM) to see Olmedo Alvarado’s
performance. On the way, we stumbled upon a celebratory fireman’s anniversary parade. Somehow it seemed like just the right way to end our stay in Cuenca.
* Someone did a 30 second intro? Yup, I fess up. That was me. It was the end of the trip and my language exhaustion was complete.