By D. M. Estabaya
Fidel Araneta and Flash Elorde have many things in common. Both are from the town of Bogo, Cebu. As youngsters, they were so poor they ran away from home and staked out a living in Cebu City. And both packed talent in their hands: Flash with his boxing gloves and Fidel with his carving knife.
Sculptor Araneta hacks away at the wooden image of the “Sleepy Santo Niño”. The piece evoked praise during the centennial exhibit in Cebu last April. Many ordered copies.
Today, at 51, Fidel Araneta is easily the top-ranking commercial sculptor of Cebu City. His sculptural works are found everywhere in the Visayas and Mindanao. His patrons are mostly priests, secular and missionary, from as far away as Jolo. He has lost count of the munipalities in the South which have placed orders for statues from him.
Sculptor Araneta is a product of the U.P. School of Fine Arts. In school, he was a medalist every year. However, his family was so poor he had to quit school for good in his senior year.
As a child, Fidel never tired of shaping miniature objects from adobe clay, called ‘manggol’ in Cebu. He made fishes, elephants, lions—and whatever else his young, imaginative mind took a fancy to.
In grade school, he had a never-ending fascination of the portrait of Rizal. He used to take along a lump of ‘manggol’ to class and shape it into a bust of Rizal. He became so proficient with the face of the hero, that upon graduation from elementary school, he was able to give the principal a miniature bust of Rizal. For years, it adorned the cabinet of the principal’s office.
In the Cebu High School, Fidel turned up the undisputed artist (he’s also good at pen-and-ink sketches). The American principal suggested that his father send him to Manila for an art education. Upon Araneta’s return to Cebu City shortly before the War, he opened a sculptural shop of his own. Shortly after, he became known as Cebu’s most outstanding sculptor.
In Cebu today, it is likely that the religious or civic statue you point to with admiration is Fidel Araneta job. Even in Mindana provinces, his sculptural works are everywhere. During the Rizal Centennial in 1961, he could hardly cope with orders for Rizal statues for public plazas. The Dapitan City Knights of Rizal commissioned him t do a life-size concrete statue of the hero for the public plaza. Araneta’s work is the best to rise in the historic Rizal place of Mindanao.
However, it is in the field of religious sculptural renditions that the Cebu artist makes his living. It is the rule, rather than the exception, that the altars and altar objects in Cebu’s 49 towns and four cities are Araneta creations. Araneta’s statues of saints come out in wood, plaster of paris and concrete. Recently, an Italian priest ordered from him a cubistic Madonna and Child. His Christ on the Cross in the posh Redemptorist Church of Cebu Cityis regarde by many as his masterpiece.
A religious man (he has a son studying for the priesthood in Canlubang and is himself a 4th degree K of C),he puts up a large elen, or crèche, ever Christmas season with the help of his wife. The objects are his works.
In the 50s, Araneta used to submit entries for the national sculptural tilt held yearly in Manila. His wooden bust of then U.S. President Eisenhower in 1953 won first prize. The Cebu artist likewise won a major prize for his bust of former President Osmeña. He donated several busts of great Filipinos to the national museum.
In 1961, he did a wooden bust of President Kennedy for a client n Manila. Early in 1963, the owner complained to the artist that a fissure or crack appeared on the temple of the bust. A few days later, JFK was shot dead on the same spot. A newspaper played up a big photo of the bust’s phenomenal damage.
Young hopefuls consider it a privilege to work under Araneta. A former Araneta apprentice, Napoleon Abueva, is a famous sculptor now. (Recently, Abueva visited his art mentor).
During the 4th centennial fete of Christianity in Cebu this year, the sculptor and his eight assistants had to work day and night to meet orders. Moreover, Araneta was tapped to put up an art work for the national art exhibits at the Cebu Normal School in connection with the centennial celebration.
His rough-hewn piece evoked the lavish admiration of art lovers. It was a wooden Santo Niño in an unorthodox stance: reclining wearily on an oversized orb. (The sculptor titled it, “The Sleepy Santo Niño after 400 Years”). Many centennial visitors ordered copies.
Also during the Centennial Week, the Papal Legate, Ildebrando Cardinal Antoniutti, unveiled an oversized statue of Lapulapu at Camp Lapulapu, Lahug, for the Third Military Area Command. It was a work Fidel Araneta did upon the specifications of the Commanding Brig. General Silvino R. de Goma who made researches on the Mactan hero.
People in Cebu City today are saying the likeness is “closest” to the real-life Lapulapu. The Cebu City government supported the project and the unveiling was done last April 27, the 444th anniversary of the Battle of Mactan.