I very much doubt if the late President Cory Aquino even conceived of putting up her paintings and other painted works on exhibit.
As friends tell it, painting was for her mainly therapy, a way of taking her mind off national concerns—even if by then she had already left high office—and even personal problems.
With a group of friends, she took art lessons with artist Jeffrey Consumo, even if, as she told her classmates, her first painting teacher was National Artist Cesar Legaspi when she was much younger.
Under Consumo’s tutelage, the art of “Tita Cory” matured, from what friend and art classmate Deedee Siytangco (her former spokesperson) described as “tentative attempts … in the charming naïf, child-like style of Grandma Moses” to more confident works of “vibrant flowers in bloom, enchanted forests of colorful trees and flowers in an abstract sort of way with bold strokes.”
Although she painted mostly on canvas with oil or acrylic, Cory also experimented with pieces on wooden plates, flat river stones, and even ceramic plates. Some of her canvas works she had made into ladies’ bags and throw pillows, which she gave to friends as gifts on their birthdays or special occasions.
Also, just as she never thought of exhibiting her paintings, she almost never exchanged her art for cash. Instead, the former President and “icon of democracy” preferred to give away her paintings, writing on the back of the frames touching dedications and even “haikus” to the special people in her life. Indeed, some of the recipients of her art made special requests to the exhibitors to look after the paintings lent for exhibit, with special attention to the notes Cory wrote at the back.
Only in a rare while would Cory allow her art to be auctioned off, and only for a good cause. Some of these causes were a fund-raising drive for the Philippine Eagle Fund, a chapel for nuns and orphans in Bicol, and the senatorial campaigns of Winnie Monsod and Nene Pimentel, both former Aquino Cabinet members.
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With the late President’s fourth death anniversary (on Aug. 1) approaching, her friends and supporters thought of putting up (“for the first, and perhaps the last, time”) a public exhibit of her paintings and artworks.
Titled “A Gift of Self,” for these are exactly what these works of art were for President Cory, the exhibit opens July 29 at the Lobby Lounge of Manila Hotel, and will be open to the public until August 2. The main organizers are Manila Hotel, Adamson University, Manila Bulletin and Manila Times. The sponsors are PLDT, Smart, Meralco, Philex Mining Corp., Metro Pacific Tollways, Metro Pacific Investments, and the Wine Museum.
At the press conference to announce the exhibit, several friends, supporters and recipients of the late President’s artworks showed up not just to explain the provenance of their by-now-priceless “Cory paintings” but also to put into words what these mean to them.
Joanne Rae Ramirez, now a columnist of the Philippine Star but who served President Cory as part of her press office, came proudly bearing two canvas handbags with paintings of flowers in vibrant colors that not even the passage of time could dim. They had been birthday gifts, she explained. Joanne looked a bit hesitant to part with the bags, even as she smiled for photographers with a bag in each hand.
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Also among the paintings and items lent for the exhibit is a rare 1986 tapestry (using cross-stitch) handmade by President Cory while still in exile in Boston, and given to Metrobank founder Dr. George S.K. Ty and his wife Mary for Christmas of 1986.
The framed artwork depicts icons of Christmas festivities such as Santa Claus holding a lighted candle and a bag of gifts for children. It is dedicated thus: “To George and Mary, With my wish that many joys and blessings will be yours this Christmas and the New Year!”
The tapestry is just one of many gifts that President Cory would bestow on the Tys and their associates through the years. Among the 20 items lent for the exhibit are those given to Dr. Antonio Abacan Jr. and Elvira Ong Chang, officers of the Metrobank Foundation which Ms Aquino served as chair of the advisory board for 16 years starting in 1993 until her death in 2009.
For its part, Adamson University, run by the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers of the Congregation of the Mission, has been “among the late President’s most ardent supporters.” The order is “dedicated to providing the highest quality education to the poor.”
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A list of the recipients of “Cory Art” who graciously and generously lent their priceless possessions for the exhibit reads like a “Who’s Who” of past and present government officials, business persons, and friends and supporters of the painter.
Among them are Sen. Cynthia Villar and her husband, former senator Manny, who treasure the painting of roses and a rosary that is part of Tita Cory’s “rosaries and roses” series; former Cory Cabinet members Adolf Azcuna and his wife Marisun, Jose “Ping” de Jesus, Sonny Dominguez and wife Ball, Philip and Margie Juico, Sen. Frank Drilon, Dondon Paderanga and wife Delia, and Ambassador and Mrs. Howard Dee.
Businessman Manny Pangilinan is represented by another “rosaries and roses” painting, while close friend Odette Ong also lent a painting.
Why, even Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc chipped in with a gifted painting, as did her daughter Kara and husband Dondi Alikpala, who proudly showed off their precious wedding gift from their “ninang.”