Thursday, September 2, 2010
28. The Saintmakers: GENER BAUTISTA
Although Betis is the center of woodcarving and furniture-making in Pampanga, it is Macabebe town which is known as the home of santeros. A santero is a craftsman who uses wood, ivory, cement or fiberglass to produce an ecclesiastical art piece known as santo, usually an image of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary or a saint.
Before the War, fishing and farming were the only means of livelihood of the people of Macabebe. Santo making was then merely an expression of their ingenuity, and the products were primarily for personal, not commercial, use.
Shortly before World War II broke out, Pablo “Ambo” Bautista thought of opening a business/shop for santo making. Her gathered all the local artisans of Macabebe and opened his talyer in the town. Tatang Ambo was not an artist, nor a sculptor, not even a painter. He was a businessman first and foremost, who jumpstarted the santo industry in his town and it was in this way that a livelihood for the people was opened and new artists emerged.
The management of the talyer was later transferred to his son, Antonio “Adong” Bautista, a painter by profession. By this time, escayola santos had become popular. Escayola santos’ main composition is the chalk dust or gesso ( a kind of plaster of Paris) molded and painted afterwards.
In the 1950s, he had a monopoly of the santo business in Pampanga, in particular the escayola finish. The talyer of Tatang Ambo inspired other shops to mushroom along the whole stretch of the town’s main road leading to the plaza. Others found their way in the other towns of Pampanga and other places outside of the province. Most shop owners were sculptors, painters, or former helpers of Tatang Ambo’s talyer. Some were the sons of the old carvers of Tatang Ambo like Adol Aguirre and Beben Garcia of Sto. Niño de Escultura (in Balibago, Angeles City).
Today, Tatang Ambo’s talyer is managed by his grandson Gener Cortez Bautista, 57. He is not an artisan but a graduate of business management. He manages at least four wood carvers, two painters and several helpers including his wife, who is a burdadera (embroiderer). His son, also a business graduate, helps manage their business.
Tatang Ambo is now acknowledged as the father of the santo industry of Macabebe, a tradition that has now been continued by Gener. His most well-known commissions are the carved santos of the magnificent gilded retablo of the Center for Kapampangan Studies of Holy Angel University in Angeles City. The santos are miniature replicas of the patron saints of the 20 towns of Pampanga, enthroned in the main altars of the parish town church.