Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An Art Deco Tour of Malolos Bulacan

What do I know about art deco ...  maybe next to nothing? But that didn't stop me from joining a day tour to Malolos during Ivan Man Dy's recently concluded Philippine Art Deco Weekend.  

Ivan has a passion for art deco and he  promotes this by conducting tours of noteworthy examples of this art and architecture genre.  His 3-day art deco series of tours took participants all over Metro Manila and on the last day, the destination was Malolos, Bulacan.
Even if I knew zip about art deco, I decided to sign up since Ivan always conducts such informative and entertaining tours. Our first stop was right in the center of Malolos -- our target was that white heritage home that you see in the background -- the Don Antonio S. Bautista mansion.

The house is beautifully maintained.  Ivan mentioned that the house was notable more for its  art nouveau orientation and was a good example for us to understand the differences between art nouveau and art deco.  Do you see the graceful and elegant carvings on top of the main entrance to the sala?
Built in the early 1800s,  the house was inherited by Don Antonio S Bautista, an aide de camp of General Emilio AguinaldoDon Antonio would later renovate the house in the early 1920s,
a time when art nouveau was flourishing worldwide. 

Here are photos of Don Antonio in his revolutionary uniform and a blurred photo that included General Aguinaldo.  These were prominently displayed in the living room.

Don Antonio had excellent taste.   Notice the furniture  done in a rather muted art nouveau style.
The florals and flourishes of art nouveau eventually led to the  spare, "industrial" lines of art deco.

I peeked into one of the open rooms and had larcenous thoughts about this aparador.
The lady of the house, a descendant of Antonio Bautista, mentioned that most of the furniture
came from the workshop of Isabelo Tampinco, a Filipino master sculptors who was a contemporary of Luna and Hidalgo Tampinco created so many masterpieces from statues to furniture to church doors.  

A high point for me was seeing this beautiful window treatment between the sala and the comedor.  This was featured as the cover of the coffee table book Filipino Style, a book  that I have in my library.  You can also see the book displayed on the small coffee table in front. 

While Malolos is a big city, the grand old houses are mostly within a 2-kilometre radius making 
for an easy walk if not for the tricycles that whiz haphazardly along the narrow streets.  
Our next stop was this  post war house belonging to the family of  Dr Nic Tiongson, author, playwright and one of Malolos' esteemed sons.  

The house still belongs to the Tiongsons but is currently leased and managed by Maloleño
Leo Cloma, a high powered senior financial executive with a more than keen interest in Filipiniana art,  antiques and of course, art deco.  Leo houses part of his extensive collection in this house. 
He was a most valuable resource person for most of this tour. 

These are very solid looking chairs made of narra and solihiya (woven rattan) -- its rounded and  sleek lines identify its art deco orientation.  This kind of sala set, common during the 40s and 50s 
is called "Ambassador" perhaps because it would not look out of place in a diplomat's residence.
You can see some of the "santos" (religious statues) in the background but the bulk of the collection is on the second floor. 

Almost all of the antique santos in the house come from the talyer (workshop) of Francisco VecinMr. Vecin runs one of the premier ateliers that creates religious statues.  You can find their work in churches and in private homes all over the world.  
The collection of statues belongs to Mr. Vecin and together with Leo's own pieces, they make up this private museum called Museum of the Incarnation or Museo ng Pagkakatawang-tao.
Unfortunately, this is a private museum.  You cannot walk in, you need an invitation to view this extraordinary collection. 

Mr. Vecin's statues are very well made and the expressions, the garments and the attention to detail is just exquisite. Leo explained that all of the pieces in this museum are "retired" processional 
santos -- they all used to grace carrozzas in Lenten processions not just here in Malolos but in other towns around the country as well.

This was one of my favourites -- while most statues of Judas are stereotypically malevolent,  this one had a more human and conflicted expression. 

If you grew up attending the Good Friday prusisyon (as I did, in Orani, Bataan) you can probably guess who these saints are -- left to right,  Martha, Maria Salome ... who was the third lady?  She was not holding anything so I could not tell if she had lost her broom (in which case she would be Maria Cleofas) or was she supposed to have been holding a piece of perfumed cloth (that would then identify her as Mary Magdalene).  I was sure though that the statue on the right most was Veronica, with Christ's face imprinted on the piece of cloth. 

We had an amazing time at the  incomparable Museum of the Incarnation  -- with a tour conducted by no less than the owner and curator himself  - maraming salamat Leo!

A few hundred meters away from the museum was the well known  house of Dr.  Luis Santos in Malolos.   Ivan called it the best example of an art deco residence in the Philippines.   

Built in 1933, as art deco was coming into its full glory, the Santos mansion stands on a spacious, tree shaded lot in a quiet residential area.  You can see the structural art deco lines on
the facade.
There are two doors -- as the house also functioned as Dr Santos' clinic, one door was for patients and led to his office while the other door was for family and guests.

As with any grand old house, there is an impressive wooden staircase.  Ornately carved balusters feature touches of the graphic lines of  art deco and the flourishes of art nouveau.  

There was no question about where to take a group photo -- right underneath this mural on the
ceiling.  This was painted by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo who was a patient of Dr. Luis Santos.    It is the piece de resistance of the remarkable Santos Mansion. 

Amorsolo is not the only important Filipino artist whose work you will find here.
In the front yard,  is a fountain that was done by Guillermo Tolentino, National Artist for Sculpture.  Two wistful nymphs pose beside a pillar decorated with what seems to be lotus flowers.

From the Santos Mansion, we passed by this empty but still alluring old house.  Would you be interested in restoring it?  This house, which dates all the way back to 1904 is on the market for a not unreasonable price although I can imagine what a fixer-upper it might be.

Next stop was an old rice granary inside the compound of another old house.  Leo had transformed the granary into a mini showroom for more of his collection of santos.
This tableau of the Last Supper is brought out for the impressive Good Friday prusisyon of Malolos -- a  glorious spectacle that Leo generously invited all of us to.   All of the statues come from the Vecin talyer and are quite a sight to behold.

The entire first floor of this traditional bahay na bato is the "garage" for just a few of Leo's carrozzas -- all of these participate in Malolos' Holy Week prusisyon.  The big electric fan on the ceiling keeps everyone cool as they decorate the carrozzas with bright lights and masses of flowers for their one big turn out of the year.

This little angel has lost his trumpet but I distinctly heard the call for lunch. Vamos a comer!

We trooped up to the second floor where a carefully chosen lunch of Maloleño specialties awaited us.

I was most intrigued by the okoy or vegetable fritter.  The caterer said that this was how okoy was cooked in Malolos  -- the matchstick sized strips of kalabasa and carrots has a base made of
glutinous rice or malagkit which keeps all the ingredients together.  The malagkit added a chewy texture to the crunch of the vegetables and the crisp- fried shrimp.  

In the interest of transparency, I admit that I overindulged at the dessert station.  I cannot resist any native kakanin and these were delightful.  On the right are bite sized squares of biko and on the left
is a bowl of plain bilo-bilo or glutinous rice balls.  You spoon the light coconut sauce over the bilo bilo for a scrumptious, cannot-stop-eating-it treat. 
These  traditional kakanin are still made and served during festive occasions in Malolos

We took our leave of Leo and walked to our penultimate stop of the tour -- a detour from all things art deco but who can go to Malolos and miss out on visiting Barasoain Church -- the site of the first Philippine Congress of 1898.
This church occupies such a central role in Philippine history that it once graced the back of the ten peso banknote that was legal tender until 2015.

The massive wooden doors are carved with various religious images -- on this door is the image of Our Lady of Mt Carmel who is also the patroness of this church.
While historically it is known as Barasoain Church, for the diocese of Bulacan it is also known as Our Lady of Mt Carmel parish church.

A mid afternoon wedding was underway.   From this photo you can see how clean and well preserved the interiors are, which are done in predominantly cream with gold and silver touches.    A statue of Our Lady of Mt Carmel can also be seen at the centre of the main altar.

As befits its historical significance, a small but excellently curated and inter-active museum has been set up in the old convento building attached to the church.  It is called Ang Museo ng Republika ng 1899.  We were welcomed by the museum curator, Mr. Jose Paguiligan who generously sacrificed his Sunday afternoon to personally conduct our tour.  
Behind him is  the carruaje that President Aguinaldo used whenever  he was in Barasoain.

The museum vividly captures images and stories of the Philippines -- when tumultuous events surrounded the formation of the fledgling republic.
The highlight is a 7-minute light and sound show,  an impressive depiction of the events surrounding the Malolos Congress and the drafting of the Constitution. 
This diorama accompanied by dramatic lighting and sound effects makes history come alive specially for school children who in this digital age are no longer content with paintings and statues but need more visual and acoustic stimulation.

A copy of the Malolos Constitution of 1899 is hung on the wall -- you would think that since we were declaring independence from Spain, we would choose to write our first constitution in our own language ... however we must remember that the authors Felipe Buencamino and Felipe Calderon were members of the ilustrado class for whom Spanish was considered as the lingua franca

The museum has 5 small galleries spread out over the spacious rooms of the church's old convento.  Exhibits trace the end of Spain's colonial rule and the beginning of American colonisation.
As they like to say about that period, the Philippines came "out of the convent and went into the brothel".

After soaking up Philippine history at Barasoain, Ivan had one last art deco trick up his sleeve.
This is the newly refurbished Provincial Capitol building of Bulacan.  Built almost 90 years ago,
this is one of the many government buildings designed by noted architect Juan M. Arellano.
The statue in front of the building is of Heneral Gregorio del Pilar, one of  Bulacan's most famous heroes.

The wooden doors of the Capitol building are adorned with the sleek, geometric lines that are typical of the art deco style.  

A magnificent marble staircase leads the way to the second floor.  The art deco motif is carried over on the stair railings.  An immense mural titled "Ang Kasaysayan ng Bulacan" (The History of Bulacan)  said to be one of the largest in the country, extends to three panels and covers the walls all the way up the staircase.  
It was painted by well known muralist Amadeo Manalad and was finished and unveiled in 1976.

The Bulacan Capitol building was our last stop on this tour -- my crash course in understanding art deco was done for the day.
This  exposure and immersion into the various applications of art deco did not transform me into
an expert but it  definitely raised my understanding of this genre -- it's no longer at below zero level.  
Thank you Ivan, I look forward to further excursions into the aesthetics of art deco

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