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.

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