Woodcarving in Betis: Keeping the art alive
GUAGUA, Pampanga—The woodcarvers’ village of Sta. Ursula in Betis here will have no more artisans after the present generation, and the signs of this happening are all too clear, warned Wilfredo Layug, a presidential merit awardee for ecclesiastical art.
“Our numbers are diminishing and there are very few second liners,” Layug, 54, told the Inquirer at the sidelines of an exhibit mounted by Mandukit Anluagi Sta. Ursula (Masu) at a mall in the City of San Fernando last week.
Layug said children of woodcarvers develop careers totally unrelated to their fathers’ craft or leave for work overseas. His son is studying to master art restoration techniques.
Counted at a little over 100, the craftsmen are aging, the youngest in their 50s.
As an organization, Masu is the instrument that seeks to prevent the death of a tradition that has produced excellent sculptures, religious arts and furniture, Layug said.
That is done by fostering unity among woodcarvers and encouraging their children to continue woodcarving as a craft and as a business through training, design and production and marketing support, he said.
In part, Masu also tries to preserve the legacy of Juan Flores. After three years of working with major sculptors in Manila, Flores in 1919 went back to Sta. Ursula (known also for its old name Paglalabuan), teaching woodcarving techniques to boat makers, carpenters, apprentices and artists. No man in the village went jobless in those times, said Layug, who trained under Flores.
“It is our moral responsibility to preserve the legacy of Apung Juan because he helped transform Sta. Ursula into a woodcarving village and gave many of us a source of livelihood,” he said.
The competition Masu held on June 12 showed hope. Judges found the winning relief sculptures of Dante Blanco, Jake Pangilinan and Alberto Tolentino to be good on techniques.
Top furniture exporter Betis Crafts has backed up Masu, with one of its founders, Myrna Bituin, urging the group to coordinate with agencies to expand its network.
Incoming Guagua Mayor Dante Torres said his administration would ask the town council to set aside funds for programs sustaining the woodcarvers of Sta. Ursula and other villages of Betis.
“Woodwork in Betis is the source of income of many families. Helping the woodcarvers is an antipoverty approach as it is a preservation of a legacy that made our place famous,” Torres said.
Betis is one of the two oldest areas in Pampanga. Annexed to Guagua in 1904, it has continued its woodcarving tradition.
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