Friday, December 10, 2010

Starry, Starry Night – from UNICEF Christmas card artist Manuel D. Baldemor

By Nancy T. Lu

Generosity gets manifested in many wonderful ways at Christmastime. Famous artists around the world, for example, offer the reproduction rights to their paintings to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Corporate interest in buying UNICEF Christmas cards to contribute to efforts to help malnourished and impoverished children around the world has been sustained over the years despite the trend to go for digital cards because the colorful greeting cards feature designs with great appeal.

To look at the paintings of Philippine-born artist Manuel D. Baldemor is to understand readily why his works revolving around the festive Christmas theme have been selected for reproduction on UNICEF cards over the years.

Every labor of love coming out of Baldemor’s atelier in Pasig, Metro Manila, feels very much like Christmas. He fills his Philippine Christmas landscape with traditional Philippine Christmas lanterns, which hang on windows and in front of homes at this time of the year. The star-shaped decorations shine beautifully in the night. The bright and exciting colors from Baldemor’s palette spread the joy of the season.

Traditions are very close to the heart of this 63-year-old native of the famous woodcarving town of Paete in Laguna province. He portrays Filipino farmers from the countryside taking time out to go and hear the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Some show up even on the backs of water buffalos. The colorful Philippine jeepney likewise brings people to church. Vendors balancing baskets of food for the Noche Buena on their heads also find their way into his paintings.

Baldemor’s stylized depictions of Christmas celebration remind viewers that Christmas is a religious feast in predominantly Catholic Philippines. The façade of a house of worship – often Baldemor’s hometown church – is incorporated into his art composition from time to time. The Filipino family, too, gets highlighted in his well thought out art expression about Christmas. He paints townsfolk looking out of the windows of their homes.

The titles, which Baldemor gives his paintings, tell about the traditional Filipino culture, which fascinates him and which he holds dear. These include: “Pasko Sa Aming Bayan (Christmas in the Philippines),” “Season of Hope,” “Stars,” “Lantern Festival,” “Stars of Good Blessing,” “Midnight Mass” and “Filipino Family.”

The generous Baldemor has contributed at least 15 designs to UNICEF cards since 1986. Some of the original paintings are still in his personal collection.

The processing of a work of art for use on a UNICEF card takes about four years. A slide of the painting is sent to the UNICEF head office in New York for evaluation. The actual painting is never brought over there.

Greeting cards featuring Baldemor’s paintings have all been best-sellers. Such knowledge truly fills the painter’s heart with happiness.

Baldemor, in fact, created a mural titled “Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving”) for the lobby of the UNICEF Building in Vienna, Austria. The mixed media masterpiece even required Baldemor to bring 50 kilos of lahar sand to Vienna. It was unveiled in 1998.

The friendly and outgoing Baldemor is not just a painter but also a sculptor, printmaker, and book illustrator. At the age of 12, he was already a “master carver” in Paete. Years ago, he even dabbled in ceramic tile design.

Baldemor studied fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He went on to win painting competitions and represent his country at international exhibitions like the Salon International Art in Paris.

Baldemor’s earliest drawings were in black and white. But his paintings have exploded in all the brightest colors imaginable. And art collectors just love them.

Today Baldemor – the father of three and grandfather of five – is considered one of the most productive and most appreciated contemporary painters in the Philippines. There is hardly any Filipino artist who can match his record for the total number of one-man shows held in his professional art career – to be exact, over 100 in all.

He travels abroad often, returning to showcase the creative results of his inspiring sojourns. Many travel grants from governments have enabled him to get to know first-hand the cultures of different countries on different continents.

When Baldemor was young, he wanted to be a poet. He now writes occasionally about his travels for the mass-circulation newspaper Philippine Star.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Getting misty-eyed over Xmas lights on Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila

By Nancy T. Lu

Memories of Christmas lights brightening up almost the entire Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, four years ago make me misty-eyed. My first visit there happened during my last Christmas holiday with my father.

Arriving at Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, just a few days before Christmas brought out the hidden child in me. My father, too, was overwhelmed to see an entire neighborhood in Barangay Zuniga glow with the heartwarming joy of the Christmas season.

December in the previous seven or eight years at least, I was told, had meant skyrocketing electricity bills for the community. Some belt-tightening homeowners were forced a few years ago to drop the whole idea of keeping the tradition.

I was back in Manila for the first time in December after so many years of living and working in Taipei. I had heard so much about Policarpio Street as a tourist attraction.

Fortunately that year when I first visited Policarpio Street, Anthony Suva, the barangay captain, wanted to set a good example in showing the spirit of Christmas. So he went ahead and transformed his two-story residence into the most attractive House of Santa Claus.

Right across the Suva home was a huge mansion shining with a hundred thousand lights as in the past years. Even the gate, the walls and the tall water tank tower of this residential compound were covered with tiny lights. The sparkling ornamentation was indeed a joy to behold in the night.

Some residents opted to put up animated decorations that December. The story of the first Christmas all the way to the visit of the Three Kings was told with music playing in one moving display. Santa Claus riding away on a sled pulled by reindeers was the theme of the showcase on the façade of another house.

Vendors sold hot “bibingka” (rice cakes) and “puto bumbong” (glutinous rice steamed in bamboo tube), delicacies usually associated with the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, to the delight of the “balikbayan” (homecoming) crowd.

Word about the Yuletide celebration on Policarpio Street near Boni Avenue had gone around fast. The lighting ceremony in late November officially announced the arrival of the Christmas holidays. Visitors who turned up every night contributed to the festive atmosphere in the whole community. Volunteers assisted motorists in looking for parking space. .

Christmas lights and animated displays in Metro Manila such as the showcase on Philippine history at UNI-Mart in Greenhills that year reminded me so much of my happy childhood. My father always found time at the end of the day to drive the family around during the Christmas season.

We made the rounds of a few places like Caltex on Padre Faura, Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Otis, Pepsi-Cola and Magnolia plants (completely giving way to condominium high-rises today) on Aurora Boulevard, C.O.D. Department Store in Cubao and Ysmael Steel on Espana Extension. We did this several times every year then. We even voted on the best or favorite display each year.

My father and my mother sent us, the children, to bed and dreamland only after putting us through an exciting drive around the city in those days when road traffic in Manila had yet to deteriorate into a big nightmare at Christmastime.

The mass-circulation newspaper Philippine Star carried on the front page a few days ago this year a big photograph showing that the lights are back on the big mansion on Policarpio Street. That the Christmas spirit is alive in that neighborhood is wonderful news.

Was it Fate that brought me back to Manila for the first time in December after so many years of living and working in Taipei? Looking back, I feel more than glad that I made that trip to Manila in 2006.

I saw my beloved father again during my Lunar New Year break not long after. But the angels took him away forever the following June. So now thoughts of Christmas lights on Policarpio Street leave me misty-eyed.