Wednesday, September 29, 2010

32. The Saintmakers: WILLY LAYUG

Wilfredo Tadeo Layug comes an artistic family from Betis, all sculptors and woodcarvers from barangay Sta. Ursula, considered as the town’s art center. In this creative milieu, Layug grew up, exposed to the art of santeros, sculptors, painters and folk artists.

Layug, however is academically trained. He finished B.S. Architecture and Fine Arts at the University of Santo Tomas as a scholar of Pampanga Governor, Estelito Mendoza. Influenced by local carvers who specialized in sacred art, Layug opened his shop in his hometown, which he further expanded after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

While companies were laying off, Layug’s santo business generated jobs for 29 skilled workers, mostly relatives, friends and neighbors. It is to his credit that the shop helped the barrio get up on its feet and regain its glory days as the premier woodcarving capital of the country, a reputation established by his kabalen (town mate), the acclaimed Juan Flores.

Like a true academician, Layug improved his craft by reading art books, frequenting exhibits and joining pilgrimages to Europe and other parts of the world to observe and study the works of the Masters. He has even gone to Oberammergau in Germany, where the famed Passion Play is re-enacted every 10 years. To his surprise, Layug discovered that the quaint German town was also a woodcarving village like Betis.

He has also traveled to Seville, Spain where he studied the art of estofado, a finishing technique in which gold leaf is applied over the surface of a santo which is then painted with the desired color. The surface is then delicately scratched or incised with design to reveal the gold underneath.

In 2002, Layug was awarded Most Outstanding Kapampangan for Ecclesiastical Art; in 2005, he was appointed as a committee member of the Pampanga Day celebration. On 3 December 2005, Layug was also awarded as Outstanding Guaguaño for sculpture and ecclesiastical arts.

In 2006, he opened a new gallery along Olongapo-Gapan Road which now houses his Spanish-style carved masterpieces. His latest opus is the retablo mayor of the Chapel of San Angelo of Holy Angel University.

The main altar, done in gothic style, contains santos that he too created, all carved in the round: San Juan Nepomuceno, Sta. Teresa de Avila, San Francisco Javier, Sta. Teresa de Niño Jesus, among others.

Layug is currently the Chairman of the Parish Cultural Heritage Council in Betis. His last trip to Spain was just this September 2010, where he trained and imparted his knowledge of santo-making to Spanish santeros.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

31. RETRO-SANTO: Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Grace

OUR LADY OF MEDIATRIX OF ALL GRACE. Carved by Irineo Cristobal, based on the description of the visionary Sis. Teresing Castillo, to whom Our Lady appeared in 1948.

In 1948, a series of extraordinary events happened in Lipa, Batangas. A postulant of the Carmelite Order, Teresita Castillo witnessed an apparition of Our Lady while in prayer at the convent garden on September 12. Our Lady appeared dressed in a white, belted robe, holding a rosary in her clasped hands. She instructed the novice to appear for 15 successive days, requested for monthly Masses, and asked that an image of her be placed on the apparition site.

Her instructions were specific: “I want you to describe me to your chaplain…I want it (the image) as big as the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes at the cloister."

The statue that was carved by santero Irineo Cristobal was of medium size and followed Teresita’s description. But instead of clasped hands, the image has outstretched arms to her side, with the right hand still holding a golden rosary. When Our Lady appeared for the last time to the young novice, she declared her identity thus: “I am the Mediatrix of All Grace”.

Unexplained things happened soon after that, the most miraculous being the shower of roses that had holy images imprinted on them, like the faces of Christ and Mary. Filipinos all over the Philippines trooped to Lipa to witness the phenomenon and devotion grew around the image. But in 1951, the Philippine Church hierarchy declared the events a hoax. Bishop Alfredo Verzosa, and early believer of the apparition, and the Carmelite prioress were relieved of their duties and the statue was withdrawn from public veneration. In fact, it was ordered to be destroyed but the good nuns stowed it away for safekeeping.

In 1981 that the Archbishop of Lipa, Msgr. Mariano Gaviola reviewed the case and in 1992, he gave permission to bring out the image of Our Lady of Mediatrix of All Grace again. On 12 November 2009, Archbishop Arguelles ordered the lifting of all bans, written or unwritten that curtail or diminish the devotion to Mary Mediatrix of All Grace.

Today, the veneration of the original image at the apparition site of the Carmelite Monastery continues, and regular pilgrimages to Lipa are undertaken by the faithful to honor the Mediatrix of All Grace for favoring with her visits, the only Christian nation in Asia.

30. The Saintmakers: JERIC CANLAS, "Pukpok Boy"

Our featured ecclesiastical artist comes from Barangay Sto. Domingo in the town of Mexico, Pampanga. He is JERIC GARCIA CANLAS, 46 years old (in 2007). His story is very typical of those told by hardworking folks engaged in a vanishing handmade art—the hammering (pukpok) of brass, silver or gold plates into decorative metal accessories for santos like potencias (rays) , aureoles, crowns, scepters and more.

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”.

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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.


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.


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.


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!


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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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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


Philippine churches of the Spanish colonial period held a wealth of beaten silver, guidons, crucifixes, candle holdrs, sanctuary lamps, censers. But it was on the santos that Filipinos lavished their devotion. Cults to the favorite saints grew so large that even the friars grumbled about the people’s “excessive” veneration of images. A pre-Conquest parallel to this is found in the ritual devotion to the representation of ancestor spirits called anito.

The Spaniards have left few description of these ancient idols,whose cults the missionaries extirpated. Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler of Magellan’s voyage, saw idols of wood “hollow and lacking back parts’. Their arms were “open and their feet turned up under them with the legs open. They have a large face with four huge tusks like those of wild boars and are painted all over.”

Folk invoking a spirit for the “recovery of a sick person, a prosperous voyage of those embarking on the sea, a good harvest in the sown lands, propitious results in wars, successful delivery in childbirth, and a happy outcome in married life,” anointed the idol with musk and civet, fragrant gums or scented wood, while an officiating priest praised it in a poetic song. These supplications are the very ones that Filipinos, till today make to their favorite saints—whose hems they kiss, whose holy feet they rub white with their handkerchiefs, to take home some of their power and protection.

But most of the santos were carved in the Philippines, since importation could never keep up with the growing number of churches and chapels—not to mention the home altars of the new Christians.

The first image carvers—indios and Chinese—were simple copysts, working from prints or from a priest’s instructions and iconographic identity, which dictates an image’s attitude or posture and its accompanying symbols or attributes. Many of the inconsistencies in Philippine santos stem from these reasons, and from the fact that the early craftsmen were primitives, “in the artistic sense of being direct and naïve.” Purpose, not aesthetics, was what mattered. Often enough, the artist detailed only the “façade” of the hairpiece or garment—neglecting to finish below would not see, as he gazed it from below a retablo, a high altar or a church wall.

The emotional charge of Philippine santo sculpture comes from the artist’s naivete: his unquestioning mind translates into form what his feeling perceives and not what his eyes actually see. By contrast, the Spanish sculptors aspired to a “theatrical realism” demanded by the tableau-like effect of religious processions. The object was to sustain lifelike illusion: the baroque impulse that led to wigs, glass eyes, eyelashes, and a painting technique called encarnado, whose ideal was to achieve the hue of the living human skin.

History has traditionally assigned the role of artisans and craftsmen to the Chinese in the Philippine colony. But a close examination of historical data reveals that, given the regular pogrom and expulsions of Philippine Chinese, there could not have been that many Chinese artisans to carve all those santos attributed to them. Even our too-ready interpretation of the stylized cloud in relief sculpture as a telltale sign of Chinese influence might merely be a misreading of the religious carver’s hieroglyphics. The cloud scrolls or series of sinuous concentric lines were a conventional symbol of heaven or sky. Mexican and European paintings show the same patterns.

Not only did indio woodworkers compete on even terms with the Chinese. Their “careful craftsmanship” was recognized, even preferred by customers. In fact, their santos and church decorations seem to have been exported in modest quantities to Latin America and Spain itself. The Mission Dolores in California, for instance, is furnished with three tabernacles, a small sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows, a polychrome Crucifix and many carved wooden tablets sent from the Philippines in 1780.

Today, santos have gained a new status. Over the last 15 years, they have become the passion of collectors, who pay as much as thousands of pesos for an image. Antique dealers only willingly oblige a growing and fiercely competitive market. They have plucked santos from old household altars and pedestals of churches all over the country. Enticed by high prices, families are parting with their heirloom pieces, while poor parish priests are selling religious relics to finance repairs of their crumbling churches.

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.