September 21, 2013

Paete, Laguna is the Carving Capital of the Philippines. It’s abuzz with creative energy, making it the kind of place I tend to get excited about. Don’t let the relaxed atmosphere fool you: the town is home to many hardworking artists and masters of the craft.

On this trip, we spotted Santas-in-progress, ultra-realistic fake fruit and the face of Jesus carved in different kinds of wood.

Lola made the puppet.
Mr. Lino M. Dalay worked as a production designer in Manila for over 22 years. His last project was the primetime soap Time of Your Life. Today, he supplies younger prod designers with props and materials.

A tray of papier-mache eggplants, ready for serving
Now that I think about it, fruit papier mache would be more cost-effective, especially for long-running shows or multiple programs. You can use the same bananas for years, and when they’re made like these, no one will notice the difference.

Mr. Luis Ac-Ac graduated from the UP College of Fine Arts in 1976. As a student, he apprenticed under National Artist Napoleon Abueva. After grad, he worked as a graphic artist and comic book illustrator before returning to Paete to start his own business.

His current project is based on Hapag ng Pag-asa, a painting by the late Joey Velasco. It features Christ sharing a meal with street children. When I asked if it was meant for selling, he said, “hinde, para sa exhibition sa Maynila.” He carves eight hours a day and goes home for lunch. That’s exactly what I want when I grow up.

He’s carving out the main forms before moving on to the details. Like using dabs of color in painting, I said. Yes, he said, it’s the same principle.

Each relief starts with chalk drawings on wood.

Nestor is Mr. Luis’ apprentice. When he first started, he was tasked to carve a single body part—I think it was feet. When carving feet became easy, he was taught to carve hands; then hair, then the face, and so on.

Two benches are laid out with carving tools. Mr Luis shows us two more toolboxes’ worth on the side. The smiths of today aren’t very good, he says, so they don’t have new tools made. It’s not a problem, though, because in their community, the tools are handed down when other sculptors retire. The metal is sturdy so it’s usually the handles that need changing.

Santa riding a dolphin. Yes.

The artists of Paete have a quiet confidence and they let their work speak for them—something I appreciate in anyone. They also have a very Pinoy graciousness: they answered all our questions and, at one point, bought us soft drinks as we discussed a business transaction.


A taca

This hand study that Nestor gave us (!!!)

This wonderfully exotic creature

Bonus: from the local coffee shop/art gallery. Antonio is seducing you.

How to Get There

By commute: take a bus from Cubao to Sta. Cruz. From Sta. Cruz, take a jeep to Paete. WARNING: I haven’t tried this.
Travel time: 4.5-5 hours

By car: take the SLEX.
Travel time: 3.5-4 hours

We left QC at 6:30 AM to avoid traffic.


Lino M. Dalay

Ang Buhay at Hugis sa Paete
Heritage Shop & Cafe
(owned by Mr. Lino)
05 J. V. Quesada St.
Paete, Laguna 4016