Wednesday, May 30, 2012


GREEN AND BARE IT. Two small paintings of Victor Cabrera, ca. late 50s to early 1960s, found at a Quezon City junk shop.

In my recent forays to the junk shops of Cubao, I was rewarded with these two small paintings--one, a nude lady by the bank of the stream, and another, a more modest beauty, doing her laundry by the river, a little girl beckoning her, at the opposite pampang (river bank). The themes and even the colors were very vintage 50s. I quickly checked the artworks--and one was actually signed on the lower right hand corner. Since the paintings came together and they were stylistically similar, I concluded that these were painted by the same artist.

At first, I thought the painter was a certain "Fabroja", but a quick reference search yielded the name Victor T. Cabrera (b. 1915/ d. 1975) of Dongan, Paranaque. He was actually a student of Fine Arts at UP, but dropped out because of an early marriage. He eventually went back to painting in his 30s, and caught up with lost time by training with Vicente Manansala (they worked together as illustrators for Photo News in the 30s) and Antonio Dumlao, who enlisted him as one of his studio commercial illustrators.

A well-travelled artist, Victor went to Europe and the America, accepting portrait commissions from passengers while en route to his destination. He always finished the artworks even before reaching the port. His works--landscapes, portraits, historical paintings--were characterized by " a silky, finished quality", evident in these two creations.

He painted more earnestly upon his retirement in 1962--the period where these paintings were most likely completed. He had already scheduled his first one-man show at the Great Wall Gallery in 1975, but he died; his exhibit proceeded anyway. Art runs in Cabrera's family--his son-in-law is the noted cartoonist and illustrator, Ben Alcantara, who created the famous "Gorio and His Jeepney" comic strip fro Manila Times.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I found this mid-century pair of carved Igorot (people of Northern Luzon, in the Philippines)  busts on ebay, of all places. They were being offered by a collector who had an amazing ethnic and tribal collection from the world over. One look and I knew these pieces were the works of a master carver.

The details are simply incredible---the features are very lifelike, capturing realistically the facial features of the hardy Igorot. The hair strands are carved very finely, individually and the proportions are perfect.

These heavy, hardwood busts are also replete with such accessoriess as big earrings, which were part of an Igorot's traditional get-up. The earring were carved separately and installed in the drooping ears of the figures. The Igorota sports strings of beads looped into her hair, while his male counterpart wears a wrap-around headgear.

Carvings such as these were very popular in the 1930s, sold primarily as souvenir items from the mountain highlands. The peak of woodcarving skills was in the 1950s, the decade in which these handsome pair were carved. They must have come from a premier shop in Manila, as these were commercially stamped with "Made in the Philippines".

These 13" busts retain their dark, rich patina indicating their age. They must have been lovingly polished and cared for thru the years, displayed in an American home, a reminder of a far-away trip in the cool northern mountains of tropical Philippines.  As one who lived and studied in Baguio, I was drawn to these busts, not just for the artistry they convey but also for the nostalgia they evoke of my memorable years up the mountains.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Recently, I got hold of a set of 8 cardboard masks given as premium items to subscribers and readers of  Filipino Komiks, a leading comics published in the mid 50s thru the 60s by Ace Publications founded in after the War. These masks depicted characters featured by the comic book in their illustrated stories. Many comic characters were inspired by specific American comics, such as Kulafu and Og (local Tarzan) and the above character--D.I. Trece was the Pinoy version of detective Dick Tracy. The masks still retain their original rubber bands that one had to sling over one's ears. The masks are superbly illustrated and in good condition--in fact, I am wearing this mask as I pound away this entry on my laptop. Today, the comic world is enriched by the drawings and creations of Pinoy 'komiks' artists like Nestor Redondo, Alex Nino, Tony de Zuniga, Francisco Coching, Mars Ravelo and Jim Fernandez. Their original artworks, previously ignored, are now worth quite a bounty based on recent sales and auctions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

221. BINATA'T DALAGA: Filipiniana Souvenir Dolls

I chanced upon this handsome couple on ebay--a Filipino/Filpina pair of dolls complete with detailed Filipiniana costumes. It's rare to find a matching pair sold together, in great condition as well. These kinds of dolls were very popular in the 30s, sold in emporiums and bazaars to Manila tourists as souvenirs. The head, hands and feet are made of fine clay, while the bodies are made of stuffed cloth.

The heads are painted realistically--the young man's head is molded and painted, while the young miss has a  black mohair wig curled in the flapper style that was all the rage in the 30s. Both are outfitted with glass eyes.

The dolls are outfitted in authentic Filipiniana outfits made from traditional fabrics. The Filipina doll is exceptional in detailing--she is in a baro't saya, complete with an inner wear called kimona. Over this is gauzy baro with butterfly sleeves with floral appliqu├ęs and a stiffened panuelo (piano shawl) held together by a faux gem alfiler (pin). The saya has a long train of the de cola variety. I am not sure if this doll is missing a tapiz, which would be of the same gauze material wrapped around the says. She wears  a pair of native corchos or slippers.

The handsome swain is dressed in a simple barong tagalog and a pair of coarse brown pants, with matching tan-colored shoes. I have seen male dolls of this sort made in the likeness of Jose Rizal, maybe a character doll, but this chap looks like your everyday Pinoy binata. Bought as a pair long ago by an American tourist smitten by our islands, these Filipiniana dolls survived 70+ years "living" abroad. Now they are coming back home, a destiny made possible by ebay!