Getting Blissful at Museo Ac-Ac

Only a few days ago, I had the pleasure of going out of town for the first time since April.

My host, Ambassador Jose Maria “Joemari” Carino, the Director General and Chair Alternate of the Technical Cooperation Council of the Philippines (Philippine Aid Agency), brought me to Paete, Laguna where I had the rapturous pleasure of viewing the sculptures of the renowned artist Luis Ac-ac in the eponymous Museo Ac-ac.

Ambassador Joemari, I was told by Grace and Lemon, the daughters of the artist, is the major benefactor of the museum, with Boyet Palma and Dan Villanueva assisting him.

On our way to Laguna, as we passed through the bucolic parts this south of Manila, Ambassador Joemari recalled that he first met the artist when his friend, gallery owner and batch mate at the Asian Institute of Management, invited him to an exhibit of the works of Mang Luis Ac-ac.

“Seeing his talent, I bought a piece and as we conversed, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Mang Luis had apprenticed with National Artist Jose Abueva, a dear friend of mine,” recounted Ambassador Joemari.

“It wasn’t long after when Boyet invited me to join him during one of his trips to Paete where we visited Mang Luis whom we found busily carving under the stairs in his tiny shop.

I had visited Paete before for official functions, but never specifically to see Mang Luis.”

This was the beginning of a relationship that would lead to the establishment of the Museo Ac-ac.

An art connoisseur himself, having been exposed to the museums of Madrid and London where he was posted, Ambassador Joemarie, seeing the works of Mang Luis, thought to himself, “How tragic that such talent was not being recognized and that he was being limited by the demands of the market that limited him to sculpting saccharine Mother and Child, prancing horses, religious images and quotidian life representations.”

The next thing, Ambassador Joemarie brought Mang Luis to Spain to open his eyes to see that there are more topics he could sculpt.

Boyet gamely joined them, and the three visited the Prado,

Sorolla, Thysen Bornemisza and the Contemparary Art Museums in Madrid, the Fernando Zobel Museum in Cuenca, the Lladro factory, the Benlliure and the Ceramic Museums in Valencia, the Picasso museum and the Museo de Bellas Artes.

Not surprisingly, the three lovers of art became very close friends.

As soon as they returned, Ambassador Joemari commissioned Mang Luis to do many sculptures “and in payment, I told him of my plans to build him a small museum to house his best works.

I also offered to design the museum and recommend content that would be interesting to visitors including a section for ivory sculptures and nudes.”

It was not a new idea to the ambassador, who grew up in Spain where his father also served as a diplomat.

“Having lived in Europe for a long time, I realized that the two major attractions of Paete were the church and its carving tradition.

But I realized that it had to elevate its sculptures from artisanal tradition to high art, and a museum would be a step in the right direction,:” he said.

“During many discussions with Boyet, we realized that by helping Mang Luis, we would be helping to attract tourists to Paete while helping Paete would increase the tourists in Laguna and thereby help increase tourism visitors and tourism related income for the country.”

On his part, Boyet thought of writing a book on Mang Luis and the result is the tome, The Life and Works of Luis Ac-ac of Paete by Celstino Palma III.

Thereafter, he proposed a sculpture competition, and thus was born the Jose Caancan Memorial Sculpture Competition honoring the Maestro Emeritus of Paete sculptors , and it was for the judging and awarding ceremonies that Ambassador Joemarie, Boyet and I went to Paete.

As we went around the museum, a stone’s throw away from the Paete Welcome obelisk after coming from nearby Lumban town, Ambassador Joemarie shared, “The concept was based on my visits to many small museums in Europe, particularly the Sorolla and Benlliure Museums, which were originally the houses of the artists.

Of great importance I thought was a garden for fresh air, a little break of greenery which was pleasant to the eyes, and a spacious, well lit and and well ventilated atelier or workshop to inspire Mang Luis.”

And that’s exactly how Museo Ac-ac turned out, as envisioned by Ambassador Carino.

It was a delightful day and while I loved all the art works, I could not help but stay longer in the Boyet Palma Room that contains some very interesting sculptures by Mang Luis.

Okay, they are erotic art of world-class artistic standards.

And yes, very tastefully done, affirming that copulation is indeed the Creator’s gift to us.

As we ended the stimulating visit to Paete, Ambassador Carino told me rather pensively, “I am not in love with Paete, I am in love with the fact that such a small town of 20,000 could have so many artists and artisans.”

By Jojo G. Silvestre

Photos by Rio Leonelle Deluvio

Paete, recognized as the Carving Capital of the Philippines, is almost a forgotten town especially with the pandemic limiting the arrival of its local and international tourists. And yet, like in other parts of the Philippines, the Christmas season has begun in this bucolic town located along the shores of Laguna de Bay.

Famous for the Saint James the Apostle Parish Church, which dates back to centuries past, it is, of course, equally known for the wooden carvings its craftsmen create skillfully by hand.

During a recent visit to Paete, the tour around its población revealed stores and homes still offering hand-made Christmas décor and figurines for sale as well as Filipiniana curio that can be interesting gifts this holiday season.

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