AN ART COLONY IN ZAMBALES. There are certain images that leave imprints on the mind and heart. Ours is an art colony
nestled in a vast countryside orchard of fruit bearing trees that is close to the sea and the mountains.
Founded by a world renowned musical prodigy, Julliard-trained violinist Alfonso Coke Bolipata on their ancestral land in San Antonio, Zambales, Casa San Miguel serves since it was built in 1993 as a refuge where our homegrown talents could converge, experiment, process, demonstrate, and inspire a local community through their art. The artistic tradition continues to this day in this creative cloister where young musicians and visual artists learn about art from their equally talented adult counterparts.
PUNDAQUIT MOUNTAINS. The bus en route to Iba, Zambales began to roll under the early morning sky of Quezon City at 7am. After a couple of stopovers, we arrived at marketplace in San Antonio, Zambales. It was only then we realized that we had covered more distance than spending hours in traffic in Metro Manila. Stress was forgotten.
We rode a tricycle and veered off the main road twice to take a photo of the Pundaquit mountains. First, along the road with a mango orchard in the foreground and second by the beach. In Pundaquit beach, a local pointed us to a natural formation where a figure of a man’s face can be outlined on the side of Capones Island. Untouched by pollution and haze, the colors of nature seemed more vivid in Pundaquit and there is no need to apply a filter to capture the breathtaking views of the mountains.
BASTION OF THE ARTS. We knew that we entered the Corpus-Bolipata farm estate when the tricycle slowed down and passed through a gate decked with colorful tile mosaics of themes and style we immediately identified to artist Plet Bolipata-Borlongan. From the gate, we followed the walk path under the leafy canopy of the vast mango orchard.
We passed the fountain and behold, in New England Shaker architecture dressed in red Ilocos bricks is the bastion of the arts, Casa San Miguel.
BACKSTAGE CAFE. After five solid hours travel by bus, we were hungry. A friendly welcome staff led us to the Backstage Cafe where we walked through dappled sunlight under the colorful canopies set for al fresco dining. We entered the cafe through a sliding door. Literally, the cafe and its kitchen is located at the backstage of a performance theater.
We chose a table next to a coffee station that is set on an antique chest of drawers decorated with Baliwag-style carabao bone inlay so I can easily access the unlimited drink. The wooden furniture, the vintage objects on the wall, the ambient lighting, the jazz music and the aroma of brewed coffee mixed with freshly baked bread fill this cozy cafe with charm, warmth, and good vibes. We felt at home.
THE BOLIPATA PLAYGROUND. My travel companion called my attention to a small gate that opens to a hidden area behind a cafe, Dad, there’s a playground!, he said. The grounds in the Pasilyo Country Living and Bookstore looked wild and rustic but obviously well-curated with outdoor furniture and whimsical sculptures by Plet Bolipata.
There is art in every inch. A vintage Volkswagen Kombi was converted into a bookstore to house a collection of good reads from the library of artist Elmer Borlongan. We browsed the books and sat in one of the weathered wooden furniture. A soft breeze had caused a wind chime to fill Plet’s playground with relaxing tinkling tones.
BORLONGAN BAKASYUNAN. Within the Casa San Miguel compound is the creative retreat of artist couple Elmer Borlongan and Plet Bolipata. During the day of our visit, the Borlongans were in Japan to celebrate Emong’s golden-year birthday.
More of Plet’s works like a whimsical menagerie are displayed right in front of the Borlangan bahay bakasyunan in Zambales.
GALERIE ANITA. Casa San Miguel is also home to the Anita Magsaysay-Ho Museum and Gallery. Named after only female member of the Thirteen Moderns, it houses contemporary artworks of Zambales-based artists and the collection of Coke Bolipata.
We sat on the gallery’s hardwood bench at the center of the enormous space. With the organic and smooth curves, this functional piece of art is distinctively by sculptor Jerry Araos. We walked around to look closely at each artwork. My personal favorites from the museum’s collection were the Andres Bonifacio depicted as angel in watercolor by Manny Garibay and a work that recall Da Vinci’s flying gadget by Don Salubayba. My young travel buddy kept coming back to see the mixed media piece by Brendale Tadeo.
CASA SAN MIGUEL. After roaming the grounds and spending quick quiet moments under the trees, we entered the main building. While the American architectural design ends on the facade, the interior of Casa San Miguel is a visual feast of playful Filipino styles.
The placement of the huge windows that provide natural light and cross ventilation is similar to the configuration found in a bahay na bato. There are grilled balconies that look out to the orchard which were common in hacienda houses of the past. The unpainted wood that dominates the large rooms and the steeply-pitched ceiling that resembles the native feel of an ancestral house. Then there is a mirador or tower room, which is an octogonal cupola providing a 360-degrees view of the Pundaquit countryside.
ARTS CENTER. The environment at the art center is akin to Hogwarts School or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
But instead of a Professor Wolverine or a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, we met visual artist Brendale Tadeo while doing an inventory of the artworks he curated at a gallery dedicated to his artist mentor, Don Salubayba. In another space, artist and educator Lala Monserrat Pavilando is facilitating an art workshop to a group of local youth.
EPILOGUE. In separate chambers, music lessons led by Coke Bolipata are being held from lectures on musical theory to the hands-on playing of instruments.
Coke gives credit to his grandfather Don Ramon Corpus, a celebrated concert violinist and pioneer member of the pre-war Manila Symphony Orchestra as his inspiration for making art accessible for all and this passing of artistic passion continues to this day in the same way Don has handed the torch to Tadeo and Pavilando and Coke to the children of Casa San Miguel.
– 14 January 2016
In celebration of Traveler on Foot’s 9th Year