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Sculpting heaven

National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva and the late Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua

National Artist Napoleon V. Abueva, both the youngest National Artist awardee (named so when he was 46) and the Father of Modern Philippine Scuplture, is en route to heaven. He leaves behind a treasure trove of his work for a nation that grieves his passing at the age of 88.

One of his most beautiful and enduring works is The Transfiguration, a sculpture of the risen Christ that offers both beauty and comfort to the people who visit their departed loved ones at the Eternal Gardens memorial park in Baesa, Quezon City. It is a huge monument, easily visible from far away—as large as Christ himself is in the eyes of the Christian faithful.

The Transfiguration

The late Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua founded his Eternal Gardens memorial park business in 1976. In the five years that followed, Eternal Gardens became the fastest-selling memorial park in the country, expanding from Baesa to open memorial parks in Binan in Laguna, Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija, Dagupan in Pangasinan, Lipa in Batangas and Naga City in the Bicol region.

“Abueva did a giant figure of Christ in flowing robes soaring heavenwards from a base representing earth opening up for the resurrection of the body,” National Artist Nick Joaquin wrote in his biography of the Ambassador, titled “A Saga of Success.” Joaquin also wrote: “The metal statue, rising 45 feet high, is in steel and bronze and has now become a familiar presence in that area where the North Expressway starts. The sight of a mighty soaring Christ has caused in the people riding by an elevation of the spirit.”

A native of Bohol, Abueva has been instrumental in shaping the local sculpture scene into what it is now. Adept in both the academic representational style and modern abstract, Abueva made use of many types of material—from hardwood like molave, acacia, langka wood, ipil, kamagong, palm wood and bamboo to adobe, metal, stainless steel, cement, marble, bronze, iron, alabaster, coral and brass.

Abueva introduced an innovation in 1951 referred to as “buoyant sculpture,” which is meant to be appreciated from the surface of a placid pool. In the 1980’s, Abueva held a one-man show at the Philippine Center in New York and his works have been installed in various museums both in the Philippines and overseas—including The Sculpture at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Abueva’s major works include: Kaganapan (1953), Kiss of Judas (1955), Thirty Pieces of Silver at the UP Gateway (1967), Nine Muses (1994) which stands outside the UP Faculty Center, Sunburst (1994) at the Peninsula Hotel Manila, the bronze figure of Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of the National Library on Kalaw St. in Manila, and murals in marble at the National Heroes Shrine at Mt. Samat in Bataan, the Bataan Death March’s terminal point.

Abueva returned to his Creator on Feb. 16. He leaves more than his legacy of famously beautiful and wondrous sculptures . He also leaves an intangible, yet no less important legacy, as his passion for experimentation has become part and parcel of the local sculpture scene. Amid all these, honors for Abueva are underway: His wake was held at the Delaney Hall adjacent to the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in Diliman, Quezon City, as well as the state necrological honors due a National Artist at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Farewell, po. Your Philippines Graphic family sends its prayers up to the Skyworld with you. Thank you for your art. G

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