On a personal note, I first heard of Jeric Canlas from a San Fernando santero. Once I passed by this santero’s shop along MacArthur Highway, and I couldn‘t help but notice the handsomely carved Crucifix that was ornamented with fine metal rays, cantoners, INRI and the skull of Golgotha all rendered in hammered metal. The metalworks were exquisite! The corpus of Christ was wearing a metal loin cloth incised with fine relief designs, so minute and intricate, definitely a product of many hours of hard work. I got his phone number from the santero, but it took months before I could reach him as I didn’t know the way to Mexico town.
When Holy Angel University in Angeles put up their magnificent retablo (main altar) at the Center for Kapampangan Studies, it required silver-plated frontals. I thought of Jeric, rang him up and asked him to come to Angeles. He arrived, together with his wife, a smallish man, almost painfully shy. But when he brought out his work samples—a crown for Santo Niño and the Virgin, a trio of metal rays for Christ—we were awestruck at his natural talent and sense of design.
To make the long story short, Jeric Canlas got one of the biggest commissions of his life—the altar frontals of the now-famous school retablo—which he hammered and adorned with stylized grapevine designs, then embellished with intricate floral patterns and curlicues, done in the tedious “pukpok’ (hammered) process. Jeric obliged us with this short interview, conducted in Kapampangan. We have taken the liberty to translate it into Pilipino so as not to lose the local flavor of the humble and challenging life story of one of the last original “pukpok boys”.
- - - -Q: JERIC, PAANO KA NAGSIMULA SA TRABAHONG ITO — ANG PAGLA-LATERO?
JERIC: Una, nagtrabaho ako bilang isang “finisher” ng mga gamit-santo na yari sa tanso noong 1978, sa bahay ng aming boss sa Bago Bantay, Quezon City. Doon, may backyard business siya. Mula sa Pampanga, dumayo ako sa Manila at ako nga ay nakontrata para sa trabahong iyon — taga-kikil at taga-liha ng mga korona ng santo, globo ng Niño, potensya, mga ganun.
Siyempre, noong nahawakan ko yung mga koronang gawa sa tanso, naaliw rin ako sa mga disenyo. Pagkatapos ng dalawang taon doon, naging confident ako na kaya ko ring gawin yun. Nagpaturo ako sa aking pinsan na si Cong Ner Taruc. Si Cong Ner ay dating nagtrabaho sa talyer ni Maximo Vicente sa Manila. Sa kanya ko natutunan ang pagpupukpok. At unti-unti akong naging bihasa. Pati pagde-design. Mahilig kasi ako sa art. Hindi lang gamit-santo, pati mga metal na palamuti sa simbahan ay nagagawa ko, tulad ng mga ramilyete.
Q: KAILAN MO NAISIP MAGTAYO NG SARILING BUSINESS?
JERIC: Mga 17 years na ang nakakaraan, noong 1990. Parang ako ay na-discover! Kasi, alam mo naman, yung pagpupukpok, ginagawa ko lang sa harap lang ng bahay ko. Minsan, may isang kotse na napadaan, huminto — at may lumabas na mama. Si Mang Isidro Alcabre pala, isang kilalang escultor na may shop sa Angeles. Nakita niya ang mga gawa ko, at mula noon, kinontrata na niya ako para gawin ang mga gamit na pukpok para sa mga likha niyang santo.
Nagsu-supply din ako ng mga pinukpok na gamit-santo sa mga santero sa San Fernando, halimbawa yung shop ni RD de Dios. So ako yung tinatawag kapag may kailangan sila.
Q: GAANO BA KAHIRAP ANG PAGPUPUKPOK? MAY PERA BA DITO?
JERIC: Mabusising trabaho. Kasi lahat gawang-kamay. Pati paggawa ng disenyo, siyempre, ido-drawing mo pa sa cardboard na dapat actual size (ang tawag doon ay “plantilla”). Maraming cut-out yan. Yung design, i-i-imprenta sa “molding dutung” (wood mold). Tapos, ita-transfer mo ang design sa tanso, pupukpukin mo. Sa Ongpin pa ako bumibili niyan. Pag silver ang kailangan, sa Macabebe ako kumukuha. Ilalatag mo ngayon yan sa “birya” (malleable pounding board made from red cement and mixed with coconut oil — the result is a clay-like mixture).
Gamit ang iba’t-ibang sizes ng sinsil, pupukpukin mo ngayon yung disenyo, ang liliit! Pukpok dito, pukpok doon … kamay lahat! Nakaka-ubos ng oras talaga. At nakakabato. Kaya hindi ako pwedeng kumuha ng maraming trabaho. Yung matatapos ko lang ang tinatanggap ko. E ako lang mag-isa ang nakakagawa nito. Yung anak ko, wala naming hilig … so hindi ko maililipat itong kaalaman kong ito sa kanya … mamamatay na siguro ito kasama ko.
Alam ko, may makina na ngayon na nakakagawa ng iba’t-ibang design sa tanso, pero iba pa rin yung yaring-kamay. Pati mga customer ko, mas gusto yun. Nakikita nila ang pagakakaiba ng gawang-kamay at gawang-makina.
Pero kahit papaano, nakaka-raos din kami. Kumikita rin kami sa “tubog” (silver plating services). Kung walang project, hayun, pukpok pa rin ako ng pukpok, gumagawa ng mga sample para ipakita sa mga prospective customers.
Q: SINO BA ANG MGA CUSTOMERS MO NGAYON? ANO BA ANG MGA GAWA MONG MGA PUKPOK NA MAIPAGMAMALAKI MO?
JERIC: Mga suki ko, halos lahat taga-Pampanga. Si Father Ric Serrano (kolektor ng mga santo), si Father Pete Cruz. May regular customer din ako sa Angeles, isang magpo-poon sa Angeles.
Yung mga projects ko na di ko makakalimutan ay yung pagbalot ko ng kaladong pinukpok sa carroza ng isang duktor sa Santa Ana. Tapos, yung retablo ng Holy Angel University. Mayroon din pala akong ginawang korona para sa isang lifesize na Virgen sa Guam – ay, ang laki ng mga korona, mga 170 cm ang taas!
Q: KUNG IPANGANGANAK KANG MULI, PIPILIIN MO PA RIN BANG MAGING PUKPOK BOY?
JERIC: Oo naman. Yung aking pagpupukpok, kahit paano, nabibigyan ako ng kasiyahan. Tulad na lang ng minsang ma-imbita ako sa Assumption College sa San Lorenzo Village, biro mo, ako? Sa Makati! Nagturo ako sa isang klase doon kung paano mag-pukpok. Ang sarap ng feeling. Ako, na isang simpleng tao, kinilala ang talino ko, kahit isang saglit!
Oo, pipiliin kong muli ang pagpupukpok bilang hanapbuhay … pero siguro ... siguro mag-aaral din ako. Iba rin talaga ang may pinag-aralan kahit papaano.
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(ENGLISH TRANSLATION)Q. JERIC, HOW DID YOU START IN THIS KIND OF JOB—DOING METALCRAFTS?
JERIC: I began first as a “finisher” of brass accessories for santos in 1978 in the house of my boss in Bago Bantay, Quezon City. He had a backyard business there. From Pampanga, I went to Manila and I was contracted to do that particular work---filing and finishing crowns for santos, orbs for Sto. Niños, potencias…things like that.
Of course, when I held those metal crowns in my hands, I got fascinated with the designs. After two years there, I became confident that I could also make those. I asked my cousin, Cong Ner Taruc, to teach me the craft. Cong Ner was a former worker at the Maximo Vicente workshop in Manila. It was from him that I learned the art of metalcrafts. And slowly, I became more proficient. I developed even my designing skills. That’s because I’m fond of art. I just don’t do metal accessories for santos, but I can also make metal church ornmanets, like ramilletes.
Q. WHEN DID YOU CONCECIVE OF STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
JERIC: About 17 years ago* (interview conducted in 2007), around 1990. I was actually discovered! You know, making “pukpok” (metalcrafts) is something I do in front of my house. Once, a car passed by and stopped. A man stepped out who turned out to be Isidro Alacabre, a well-known sculptor with a shop in Angeles City. He saw my work samples, and from that time on, he contracted me to do the metal works for the santos he created.
I also supplied metal accessories to santeros in San Fernando, like the shop of R.D. de Dios. I usually am called when they need the services of a metal craft worker.
Q. HOW HARD IS IT TO DO PUKPOK METALCRAFTS? IS THERE MONEY IN THIS?
JERIC: It’s painstaking work. That’s because everything is made by hand. The designs are drawn in actual size on a cardboard (called “plantilla”). So many cut-outs to do. The design is then imprinted on a wooden mold. The design is then transferred on brass plates that you need to hammer. I have to buy these (plates) from Ongpin. If silver is required, I get these from Macabebe. You lay these on a “birya” ( a malleable pounding board made from red cement and mixed with coconut oil—the result is a clay-like mixture.)
Using chisels of different sizes, you pound on the designs that are so minute! Pound here, hammer there…all by hand! It is so time consuming. Not to mention, boring. That’s why I can’t accept much work. I only take on what I can finish. I, alone, can do all these work. My son is not at all interested in this, so I can’t possibly pass on this art form to him…it will probably die with me.
I know, there are machines now that can stamp dieffernt designs on brass, but nothing beats hand-made. Even my customers, that’s what they prefer. They can spot the difference between hand-made and machine-made metal works.
We get by, no matter what. I also earn from silver-plating services. If there are no projects, I still do “pukpok” works, creating more samples for prospective customers to see.
Q. WHO ARE YOUR CLIENTS TODAY? WHAT METALWAORKS HAVE YOU DONE THAT YOU ARE TRULY PROUD OF?
JERIC: Most of my loyal customers are from Pampanga. Fr. Ric Serrnao, a santo collector and Fr. Pete Cruz. I have a regular customer from Angeles, a santero from that city.
My most unforgettable projects include a carroza (processional float) owned by a doctor in Santa Ana, in which I had to cover it completely with hammered cut-out (calado) panels. I also did the frontals of the retablo of Holy Angel University. I also made a crown for the lifesize Virgin of Guam—it was such a huge crown, around 170 cm. in height!
Q. IF YOU WERE BORN AGAIN, WOULD YOU STILL CHOOSE TO BE A “PUKPOK BOY” ?
JERIC: Of course. My art of metalcrafting gives me a certain amount of satisfaction. Like in one instance, I was invited by Assumption College of Makati, no less! I taught one class the rudiments of crafting with metals. What a great feeling. Imagine, a simple man like me was recognized for my skill, if but for a moment!
Yes, I will still choose again to engage in metalcrafting as my means of livelihood, but perhaps, I will also pursue my studies. There’s nothing like getting a good education!