Casa San Miguel


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

Published in: on January 14, 2017 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  

Las Piñas Nature Church


NATURE CHURCH. In the vast concrete jungles of cities, we find modern structures that show deep respect for the environment and our culture. In Las Piñas City there is the Parish of Mary Immaculate, a church built within a modern residential subdivision.

It received a sobriquet as Nature Church because its architect used wood, anahaw, and thatch as main building materials and left the existing fruit trees and natural landscape, including the nearby creek undisturbed.



MAÑOSA DESIGN PHILOSOPHY.  The Nature Church verbalizes the design philosophy of Architect Francisco Mañosa who has been for decades championing indigenous Filipino architecture. Some of the notable Mañosa structures that we see today are the Coconut Palace, The EDSA Shrine, San Miguel Corporation headquarters in Ortigas Center, Pearl Farm Resort in Davao and the stations of Light Rail Transit 1 on Avenida Rizal.

At the Parish of Mary Immaculate, we immediately identified the Mañosa signature style in the church complex such as the pitched roof that is made of 40,000 interwoven anahaw leaves. This is a distinct design element and traditional material found particulary in the bahay kubo.



FILIPINO CRAFTSMANSHIP.  Materials found in nature are the traditional medium for Filipino craftsmanship. Anahaw leaves are woven to become functional abanico. Wood is carved or left in its original form to become fine furniture and sculptures. The endemic capiz shells are placed within the grids of wooden-latticed window panels of traditional houses.

In the main church of the Mary Immaculate Parish, translucent capiz shells were fashioned into lanterns in the form of doves. The altar is made from a marble slab resting on dried madre de cacao driftwood. Logs and tree trunks were recycled to function as church pews.



EPILOGUE. Beside the main church is a chapel with similar native elements. Here, we found flocks of birds resting on the huge madre de cacao chandelier and some stray cats sleeping on top of the organic pews. And just like the humans praying before a replica of the San Damiano Cross at the main altar, these creatures found a sacred refuge under the shade of interwoven anahaw leaves.

-2 November 2016
Día de los Difuntos

Published in: on November 2, 2016 at 2:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Ayala Museum

Ayala Museum

WHEN HISTORY COMES ALIVE. Philippine history can be a boring subject. Depending on how the topics are presented, stories about the olden times, how our ancestors lived, how our heroes died can be fascinating when it is entertainingly and creatively narrated. As the cliché goes, this is when history comes alive!

We were at the Ayala Museum for the first time to attend one of Ambeth Ocampo‘s weekend lectures. Home to ancient artifacts and well-curated exhibits that narrate our nation’s historical timeline, the museum is a fitting and potent setting for our country’s most popular historian to discuss about everything and anything about Philippine history.

Ayala Museum exhibit

Ayala Museum Damian Domingo

ART FOR ALL. The six-floor building has a permanent exhibit of ancestral gold that were unearthed from pre-colonial grave sites. While it is not clear when our ancestors first learned to mine gold, but the earliest gold artifacts date back as far as 500 BC. Visitors can view up-close priceless ancestral gold used as personal ornaments like barter earrings, anklets, bracelets, woven belts, necklaces and burial face ornaments that is believed to give its wearer greater privilege in the afterlife.

The museum has a collection of rare drawings from the 19th century album of Damian Domingo. Two of these albums are in the US and two are in local private collection. The Ayala Museum reprinted the Damian Domingo drawings in pencil cases, greeting cards, stationary and made the rarest art of a Filipino old master available for all to bring home.

Ayala Museum Chinese junk

Ayala Museum diorama

BOAT GALLERY. It is only in the Ayala Museum you can find a boat gallery that shows in miniature models a myriad of watercraft that sailed on our lakes and rivers in the olden days.

Chinese junks with its mighty sails and roofed quarters for its sailors transported traders to the different islands to barter goods. The royal galleons that carried the colony’s products to Mexico and in some occasions became warships. The cascos with awnings of nipa navigated the length of Pasig river and sailed the wide Laguna de Bay to ferry passengers and produce to the countryside.

Ayala Museum Declaration of Independence

Ayala Museum diorama exhibit

DIORAMAS. The timeline of Philippine history is visually narrated in 60 dioramas. The intricately detailed dioramas were made by unnamed craftsmen from the chisel town of Paete in Laguna.

The diorama exhibit is a good introduction to learning Philippine history because it highlights the significant events and important turning points that led to our natinoahood. However, this outline should not replace the main text we study in school, those details we research in our library and read from books because memorizing key dates and historic names and places do not make sense out of context.

Ayala Museum Ambeth Ocampo lectures

Ayala Museum Ambeth Ocampo

STANDING ROOM ONLY. It was standing room only when we arrived early at the Ayala Museum for the lecture. For more than an hour we learned and were entertained. We waited in line for our turn to have our copies of Looking Back to be signed. How come the weekend lectures of the Ambeth Ocampo are always jam-packed and sold out?

EPILOGUE. Here is an excerpt of my interview with Ambeth:

Traveler on Foot: You are undoubtedly the most popular Filipino historian of this generation. You have numerous followers, influenced and inspired a lot of Filipinos to appreciate our culture, art, and history. Can you now say that this is the life that you want? What else do you want to achieve in life?

Ambeth Ocampo: As the country’s former National Historian, as allegedly the most popular historian of my generation I’d like to think I took history from the ivory towers of academe and brought it down and returned it to people where it also belongs. I wanted to share my interest and enthusiasm for history by making it relevant to people. I am an accidental historian, I didn’t plan it. Many things in my life fell on my lap and I made the most of them. Skill is nothing without opportunity and I was blessed with both. I’m lucky that I like what I’m doing such that my “work” doesn’t seem like work at all because I enjoy it–and this shows.

Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Raul Lebajo

Raul Lebajo

SURREALIST’S HOME. The slow and long travel on the infamous EDSA traffic coming from the northeast going to the southernmost city of Metro Manila were all forgotten when we stepped into a surrealist artist’s home studio in Katarungan Village, Muntinlupa.

The sprawling garden and all three floors of the Raul Lebajo estate are creation spaces where still-life images of mutant flora and fauna and botanical creatures are expressed on mural-sized canvas and on small pieces of paper. 

Raul Lebajo painting

Raul Lebajo home

RAUL LEBAJO. Surrealism was a revolutionary art movement that began in 1920s. Foremost surrealist artists paint melting clocks, floating men, strange creatures that give life of everyday objects and things that question the reality of appearance. This art movement has endured and remains popular because of its ability to unite all cultures. It is surreal because it is like in a dream.

The name Raul Lebajo is linked to Philippine surrealism. He paints familiar creatures and objects we see around us every day but in fantastic colors and dream-like forms to express his message that we must be symbiotic with nature and stop being destructive of our environment.

Raul Lebajo drawing room

Raul Lebajo 2nd floor studio

ALWAYS OUT OF THE BOX. Going up to a flight of stairs, Mr. Lebajo led us to the drawing room on the second floor where he does pencil sketches. Facing the artist’s drawing table is a painting that made me feel claustrophobic. Starring at it for a while, the respected artist broke the silence by explaining the thematic message of the piece, kinahon ang tao so they are struggling to go out of the box.

At one corner is a collection of miniature earthenware from Luz Gallery. They serve as an endless source of inspiration. The huge painting and the collectibles give us a clue that no matter how surreal and out of the box Lebajo’s artworks may appear on canvas or on paper, they are firmly rooted in shapes and forms drawn from real, everyday objects.

Raul Lebajo 3rd floor studio

Raul Lebajo home studio

CREATIVE CLUTTER. Art supplies and unfinished works on canvas take much of the tall space on the third floor studio. Here, music from a small transistor radio fills the room.

A monobloc chair in one corner is painted with colorful dots. There is a display of action figures, a primitive bulol, and some disparate objects. All and the rest of the creative clutter we can only guess to have inspired the artist to play with forms that later appeared in his works.

EPILOGUE. We remain avid fans of our local talent and them having us in their home studio to listen to their stories, their opinions, and dreams, that experience is surreal.

Click here for more blogs about our visits to Filipino artists in their home studios.

Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Lucky Salayog

Lucky Salayog

JUST GOT LUCKY. Two years ago, I found a broken santo in a dumpster. I brought it home and thought for a while what to do with it until sculptor Lucky Salayog took the armless statue of Jesus into his studio.

A month later, Lucky returned to our house with the sculpture. We were impressed at how he recreated the missing left arm with construction nails. He explained that the nails are symbolic of the passion of Christ. The right arm was fashioned from found metal scraps, a fitting metaphor for healing and renewal. What used to be an armless icon is now welcoming our visitors with open arms into our home.

Lucky Salayog artist

Lucky Salayog workshop

METAL SCULPTOR’S HOME-STUDIO. The Salayog home, located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre in Montalban, Rizal is Lucky’s studio. His workshop is located at the back of their kitchen where he assembles his sculptures made of found metal pieces. When creativity overflows, Lucky spills it out in his garage that is filled with junk shop-finds from metal doorknobs and springs to bicycle and motorcycle parts.

On living room walls are his paintings of birds and windmills. Currently, these are his favorite subjects, but it is in his sculpture that Lucky is best known for.

Lucky Salayog flying machine

Lucky Salayog exhibit

FLYING MACHINES. During our visit at Lucky’s studio, he was preparing for his first solo exhibit. His body of works is about man’s ingenuity, imagination, and dream of defying gravity to be high in the sky, above the clouds, reaching for the stars through flying machines.

Powered by a crank is a wind turbine with sails made from denim cloth. A screw-like propeller that brings to mind Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of an air screw that was designed to compress air to obtain flight. There is an elaborate, complicated-looking contraption that powers metal oars to propel an airship.

dream to fly

EPILOGUE: DREAM TO FLY. On one afternoon this August, Lucky’s flying machines will grace our home with an art exhibit entitled Dream to Fly.

Click here for blogs about our visits to Filipino artists’ in their home studio.


Published in: on August 20, 2016 at 5:43 am  Comments (2)