Ben-Hur Villanueva: Sculptor with a heart

Ben-Hur Villanueva is a sculptor who is not native to Baguio but has made his studio and home there. He says something about the place that drew him there, and continues to nourish the passion he has for his life’s work.
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And so there he was, the sculptor Ben-Hur G. Villanueva, articulate, humorous, a real raconteur, holding forth before visiting national media on the grounds of The Manor, Camp John Hay, leading tourist destination in Baguio City.

As he talked, he invited the visitors to watch his protégés, Kankana-ey wood carvers at work on their craft.

“They’re better than me, I’m amazed,” he quipped.

Nearby, in the outdoor café of the hotel, the figurative wrought-iron works of Villanueva and his son Bumbo were on display for sale, carrying such titles as “Jazz for You” (a saxophonist), “Flutist,” “Ballerina” and “Finale.” The prices were not cheap (six digits), and the exhibit was expected to run until the end of March.

Villanueva (brother of the late installation artist Roberto Villanueva) has a soft spot for the underprivileged. He has worked with streetchildren, and with “visually impaired” or blind children: “How do I teach them? I get down to their level and close my eyes.”

As for the Kankana-ey and other Cordillera indigenous wood carvers, he reeducates them on how to focus and then introduces design.

“My dream is for wood carving to be successful,” he said. “Then I introduce livelihood activities for their wives, to keep them busy, art weaving, batik- and sandal-making.”

The artist added: “I give workshops to their children. That’s what I did when I was in Silay City (Negros Occidental). I gave workshops for the children of potters.”

Villanueva won a Gold Medal in Sculpture from the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) in 1984, with his work in black, wrought-iron metal titled “Protection.” It showed two children running in the rain and protecting themselves with a banana leaf (dahon ng saging).

An art collector bought it and he doesn’t know where the work is now.

Other major works were “Edsa ’86,” showing a family dominated by a cross and unveiled by President Corazon C. Aquino herself; “Kapit-Bisig” or People Power float in wood; and “Supremo.”


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