People in the Philippine archipalago have been carving simple images for millenia, but it was the arrival of the Spanish that really created the traditions and style that we see today. The simple “Bulol” carvings of the Cordillera have become the latest trend for interior designers in Manila and are believed to be either rice gods or meant to help in curing illness. Now they clog up the tourist traps of Baguio and the rice terraces, which I still haven,t seen after all this time.
With the Spanish came the Catholic faith, good cooking and the skills to build in stone and it was quickly put to use in the building of some of the most impressive cathedrals in the Spanish colonies. Catholic missionaries soon recruited, or forced depending on who you believe, local Chinese craftsman to create the furnishings. It was the use by the Chinese of Indio apprentices which spread the craft throughout the islands. Filipinos are great imitators ,as any one who,s been in a Karaoke bar here will know, and this gives them the ability to reproduce a pretty good estimation of what you want to have made. I,ve seen anything from five foot tall Grizzly bears to the smallest chess pieces. Anyone wanting a saint for their house this is the place to get one.It,s in San Fernando near the lahar flows from the Pinatubo eruption. And when the timber supplies are low they even carve the lahar into garden ornaments!
Many towns in Pampanga became centres of carved furniture production and any drive in the country will lead you past shop after shop of the stuff. It,s up to you to find the best price if you,re any good at haggling.This is the raw state that you find most of the furniture, although perhaps not as raw as this, then you specify the colour and fabrics. Customers should aware that some furniture can be a little on the wet side, I have a Nara side chair that,s only stopped moveing after two years.
Carving at it,s best can be found in the town of Paete ( pa-e-te). It,s even named after a woodworking tool. The Paet is the Tagalog word for chisel. And incidentaly it,s also the place where the yo-yo was invented! Life for the carvers has become difficult since the logging ban was introduced by Cory Aquinos administration and although it,s since been lifted many of the species suitable for carving are becoming rare and are now protected, although illegal logging is unfortunatly common. I believe that there is a Mission Dolores in San Francisco that has a pulpit that was carved here and St Peters also has some crucifixes. This is a piece I bought a couple of years ago for the princely sum of 7000peso ( $155 USD). Its titled Danmed soul and stands 32” tall carved in Kamagong. My camera won,t really pick up the detail.
I intend to post more about the workshops and craftsman of this country. Stay tuned.
-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand