How Bencab, Joven Cuanang, and Cora Relova Have Kept History Alive in Their Respective Estates
A trip to some of the country’s
It is said that leaving home sharpens one’s sense of it. This seems to have been the case with Benedicto Cabrera, better known as Bencab. Living in London in the ‘70s, Bencab found himself drawn to antiquarian bookstores and shops in search of old prints, maps, and photographs of Spanish colonial Philippines. This inspired his “Larawan” series that marked an early decade of his works. The images, based on colonial photography, portrayed Bencab’s strength in portraiture, and his uncanny ability to suggest parallel scenarios between the past and present.
On his return in 1986, Bencab, arguably among the most important artists today, threw down roots in Baguio City where he continues to create art—and stir fresh respect for the traditions of his home in the mountains.
National Artist Bencab
His farm in Asin, in the municipality of Tuba, Benguet, a few
Traditional huts from Ifugao and Kalinga, meant for visiting writers and artists, were outfitted with modern conveniences. But apart from Asin’s cluster of indigenous mountain dwellings, a 1,700-square-meter museum houses not just Bencab’s art and his collected works of contemporary Philippine artists, but also the rich trove of Cordillera
An Ifugao hut sits on a terrace below Bencab’s modern home and studio
Administered by the Bencab Art Foundation, the museum in Asin revives a worldview that is fast fading with the onslaught of modern preoccupations. The astonishing array of
Red ginger torch grows in wild abundance
String beans are among the traditional crops cultivated in Asin
hagabi and a sculpture by fellow National Artist Arturo Luz give a glimpse of what’s in the museum.
Asin’s tribute to native Cordillera resonates in Cuanang’s handiwork in Currimao, Ilocos Norte, where he has built an estate that is as much a commemoration of history as it is a home.
In Sitio Remedios (lovingly named after his mother), the avid art collector has recreated a seaside property into a Filipino colonial town, complete with a chapel inspired by the historic Paoay Church and elegant old homes. With each piece meticulously numbered, Cuanang transported these homes to Sitio Remedios.
Joven Cuanang and an ancient
sampaloc tree stand guard before the Capilla de San Miguel.
The conference center named Centro Iloco de Juan Luna
Some houses are named according to their provenance—Piddig, Bacarra, and Dingras. The composite ones, or the so-called
Balay Radrillo and Balay
nga Puraw as seen from the chapel grounds
The main door of Balay nga Bato
He recalls how Sitio’s parts came together—from one ancient
A picturesque corner of the Plaza de San Miguel
Past the gated arch and a footbridge at the entrance to Sitio Remedios is the Avenida de Azucao. It is named after a variety of lotus once found in Paoay Lake.
Those who experienced the quaint world of Sitio Remedios have been inspired to do the same with their own ancestral legacies.
A more conventional, but no less detailed, approach to heritage conservation is showcased in the historical town of Pila, Laguna. Reclaiming the priceless
Luckily, she found ample support in family, namely second cousin Querubin Relova (then the town mayor);
Antique four-poster beds in Corazon Rivera's house
The grand piano in the living room of Manuel Rivera's house
With the help of the Pila Historical Society Foundation, Pila’s
An old map of Pila in the municipal hall
Pila’s ancestral homes may embody the gentility of a particular period in local history, but there’s no reason these could not coexist alongside the exigencies of contemporary times. The families of the houses’ original owners have gladly opened their doors to tourists and visitors but not at the expense of their privacy. The citizens of Pila have breathed life into the charming past for all to experience and enjoy.
The quaint white house of Jose Agra and Rosario Villarica
A sitting room at Candida Rivera’s house
These preservation initiatives surely require tenacious personal dedication and conviction. There is hope for more Pilas in the Philippines or cultural preserves like those built by Bencab and Cuanang, even amid the perils of time, ignorance and indifference. Such important reminders of fertile cultures serve as oases where future generations can refresh their souls—and thus more thoughtfully navigate their paths in a fast-changing world without losing their way.
*This story was originally published in the June 2008 issue of Town & Country.
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors