Wednesday, July 10, 2019

68. A Mountain He Could Not Climb: JOSE W. HERNANDEZ and his Facebook Painting

ZAMBALES LANDSCAPE, 24" x 30", oil on canvas, signed Jose Hernandez, 1983.

When Facebook was founded in 2004, it was only a matter of time that sellers and dealers discovered it as an effective selling platform. Which was why, in 2016, Facebook launched its Facebook Marketplace that continues to be a convenient destination on  social media to discover, buy and sell items with people in one’s community.

It was in this way that I stumbled on a painting offered by dealer Kenito Romero, who had posted it, along with other picks on the said selling site.  I had previously bought a Ben Alano portrait from Kenito, who, when not on assignment in Qatar doing aircraft maintenance, also dabbles in freelance selling of collectible like antiques and paintings.


This was, however, my first time to see a Jose Hernandez painting offered for sale from a picker—usually I see these in galleries and personal collections. I have always wanted a Hernandez artwork, as I am partial to the works of Kapampangan artists, of the “Mabini-style” kind, and Hernandez’s works reflect this style. He was more partial to large-scale themes, and I have seen these in paintings capturing town fiestas teeming with people, sprawling landscapes,  and Amorsolo-esque rural scenes.

Jose Hernandez was actually born in Tondo, Manila on 22 September 1944. The family, however, moved to Pampanga after the war, when his father, a lawyer, accepted a teaching job at the Harvardian College, a local law school in San Fernando. By 1948, the Hernandezes were well-settled; they had also established the Luzon Women’s Fashion Academy beginning that year.


Jose Hernandez, nicknamed “Boy” showed an early interest in the arts. As early as Grade IV at the Assumption Academy, he would use his notebooks to doodle and draw at the expense of his school work. As a teen,  he earned extra money as a painter- apprentice in a movie theater sign shop owned by Nards Mendoza. He was painting even as he started his high school at Pampanga High School. In his senior year, he was given a scholarship by Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, allowing him to graduate in 1963.

But his heart was in the arts, so, in the mid 60s, he pursued this passion under the mentorship of future National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo, Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Vicente Manansala. At the same time, he was also visiting the studios of  such popular artists as Simon Saulog, Cesar Buenaventura,  and  Miguel Galvez. He totally abandoned his education to learn art from these masters.

HERNANDEZ PAINTINGS ONLINE  Sources: alamy stock photos/

In 1965, he was honored to join his idols in a group exhibit held at the National Library.  Later in the decade, his paintings were carried in the Angeles gallery of Conrado Zablan. Finally, he struck it on his own by opening his own gallery along Friendship Highway in 1974.

In 1980, he made it in the international scene with an exhibition of his works at the Fine Arts Gallery in Spokane, Washington. It was from this period that this mountainscape from Facebook Marketplace was painted.

NOTE THE CONDITION OF THE PAINTING, that has been glued on plywood, and framed.

When it arrived at my doorstep, this large 24” x 30” was in dire condition. It had been glued to a thin plywood, as it was the custom to keep the canvass flat, and it was coming off from the frame, which seemed too small to hold it. At the back, a dedication was inscribed with a pentel pen: “To Sammy, A Remembrance & Thanks for Everything. Robert Domingo P.D.” ( A quick google check revealed a certain Robert Domingo, a Production Designer for movies)

DEDICATION, written in pentel pen on masking tape at the back of the painting.

The seller, Kenito, told me that it had hanged in a restaurant in Tagaytay for years, which explains its sorry state.Exposed to the elements, the painting had sustained many scruffs and accumulated layers of dirt, I had to clean it at once, first with sponge and soap, followed with a generous rub of Wipe-Out cream. The original colors came alive, and the brush stroke details revealed that this could have been painted briskly, and quickly—on-the-spot.

THE CANVAS, as found was glued to a plywood board that revealed a paper sticker about its provenance.

I was so bothered that it had been glued on a plywood, so I set about trying to pry the canvas out. After a few, firm tugs, the canvas started to come off—thank God, the rubber glue had completely dried off.  It took awhile for me to pry the canvass loose, as even with careful peeling, all that pulling I added more scruffs and scratches to the painting.

To my  surprise, I found a sticker on the plywood to which the canvas had been affixed.  I could not avoid tearing the sticker to pieces, but I pieced it together like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing important information about the painting and its provenance,

RECONSTRUCTED STICKER , shows the piece came from Genesis Gallery.

The sticker yielded the name of the gallery it had come from: Gallery Genesis, a well-known gallery still extant today,  based in Pasig. It also confirmed that Jose Hernandez was the artist behind the painting, entitled “Zambales Landscape”, painted in 1983. The rest of the information, unfortunately, is unreadable due to the damage I caused, but all I needed to know was there.

ZAMBALES LANDSCAPE,restored detail.

The scene is actually a portion of the grand Zambales mountain range, and it shows a peak that looks like Mt. Dorst, painted from the Pampanga side. The trees, foliage and vegetation were painted with quick, energetic short strokes, which suggest that this artwork was painted in situ--the artist had tom paint quickly as he was at the mercy of the fickle outdoor weather, The deft handling of the perspective using different shades of blues and greys, and elements like the tiny nipa huts, and the mountains beyond-- give us a sense of the great distance and vast grandeur of this great mountain divide.

Next came the business of having the painting retouched and re-framed. For this part of the job, I sought the service of local painter, Roy L. Datu, a longtime artist since 1967, with a studio along Don Juico Ave., It also helped that Datu knew the painter personally. Datu’s specialties are portraiture and painting restoration, one of the few to have mastered the tedious art. But it took just two weeks for him to finish the restoration job, and double-frame the painting--which he did commendably, as these pictures show.


Though the rest of the 80s and the 1990s were a period of  relative stability and success --he opened a frame shop in Bacoor in 1988, was a finalist in the 1995 International Art Competition in Bardonia, New York, and had his “Fiesta” painting reproduced as a UNICEF Christmas Card----Hernandez began having bouts with depression, that grew worse in the 1990s.

While he had weathered the challenges of a struggling artist, his mental illness, compounded by his personal problems,  proved to be a more difficult mountain to climb.  Sometime in the late 1990s, he decided to end it all by taking his own life by hanging. His works today are avidly sought after by discriminating collectors who value the realist tradition with themes made popular by Amorsolo,  of which Hernandez was one true master.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018



Death came early for Filipinos in the 19th century; life expectancy was just about 35 years. Life, was indeed precious, which was why, death was considered major rite of passage, with ceremonies and post-mortem practices created around the inevitable. All Saints’ Day (Todos Los Santos, on Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2)--2 distinct observances that Filipinos have merged as one—have been providing the perfect backdrops for rituals and activities practiced in many parts of the Philippines. Chief among these is the practice of pangangaluluwa (for the souls)
PANGANGALULUWA. Illustration by Pepito Frianeza, Filipino Heritage, vol. IX

Prevalent in Tagalog regions, pangangaluluwa originated from the belief that souls in purgatory need not just prayers but material things to make the transition to heaven. As such, people, impersonating souls, go from house to house, seeking for alms as they sing songs that end with an urgent exhortation to “hurry up or the heaven’s gate will close on us”.
GOSU SINGERS, from CKS book,by Cris Cadiang

A Kapampangan version is the singing of death-inspired songs called gosos from house to house on October 31. Much like carolers, they are rewarded by money or with food (In Nueva Ecija, sticky rice cakes or suman, are doled out to children). If the manggogosu are ignored, they pelt the house with stones, or steal a chicken or  fruit from the owner’s garden—similar to trick or treating during Hallowe’en. 


Hallowe’en celebrations are becoming more widespread in the country, mostly in cities and urban areas, perhaps due to the visual attractions of costumes and make-up. Hallowe'en is a contraction of “Hallow’s Evening”, the eve of All Saints Day. Halloween traditions evolved from ancient Celtic harvest festivals that began as pagan rites, and later Christianized.

Customs and practices like trick-or-treating, parties with horror themes, wearing masks and guises, carving and lighting jack-o-lantern pumpkins, playing pranks, divination games—have all been developed through the years, attaining greater popularity in Europe and America.

The Philippines was introduced to the concept of Hallowe’en parties by foreigners led by Americans, British, Spanish and Germans, expatriates who organized their own clubs or “sociedad de recreo” for social leisure.  There was the Casino Español (the oldest, at Pasaje de Perez), Manila or English Club (at Nagtahan, with a branch at Plaza San Miguel),  and the German Casino Union at Solano St.

The clubs organized leisure activities like concerts, operas, stage and musical plays, but the most popular were the exclusive themed parties: danzas, masquerades, costume balls—and the first Hallowe’en parties were first conducted in the 1920s within these elite circles.

In time, socio-civic organizations took up the cue and groups like the “Daughters of American Veterans” (of the Spanish-American war) which, from 1929,  regularly  held their Hallowe’en socials in full costume regalia, at La Palma de Mallorca Hotel in Intramuros. Not to be outdone were the members of the German Club, who gather together in their native costumes every last week of October for their Hallowe’en event in their clubhouse in Manila.

It took awhile to cascade the idea of a Hallowe’en along with its trappings to Filipinos who were “Catolico cerrados” and who shied away from figures of horror like demons and goblins, strictly sticking to their undas tradition of cemetery visits and masses for the dead. In the Commonwealth era,  Filipino high society took to having costumed parties—but mostly based on wholesome characters.

The biggest national party—the Manila Carnival—gave Filipinos the platform to express their creativity,  as the fair featured costume contests that drew outlandish, often horrifying costume entries. But these were worn for competition, not designed for Hallowe’en. 

It was only in the 70s that the novelty of Hallowe’en parties was appreciated by Pinoys, fanned by commercial establishments which began riding on religious events to drum up their sales. Hence, Holy Week culminated with an Easter Egg Hunt, Christmases became mega-sales events—and All Saints’ Day—a fright night costume extravaganza.

Today, malls, bars and clubs, companies, schools, villages and every other neighborhood have imbibed the spirit of Hallowe’en,  spooking up their places, holding their own trick or treats and monster costume contests, staging terrifying zombie runs and haunted house visits. The Church is saying “Boo!” to all these displays of “pagan fun”, but for most Filipinos, it’s just another day to “chill”.

Graphic Magazine, various 1929 issues.
Cadiang, Cris. Gale at Gosu. Center for Kapampangan Studies, Holy Angel University.
Mallari, Joel P., Serenata. A Treasury of Kapampangan Folk Songs. CKS, Holy Angel University
Illustration by Pepito Frianeza, "Pangangaluluwa", Filipino Heritage, vol. IX.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


BAHAY KUBO BY THE BROOK, signed T.I. Sanchez, dated 1962.

You'll never know what you'll find in known as I have been pretty successful sniffing out bargain art on this selling site. For example, I got this 1962 Filipiniana painting signed by T.I. Sanchez, at an amazingly affordable price. Mabini-style paintings are just my cup of tea, and this mid-century piece, though a bit scruffy,  is certainly a welcome addition to my collection.

THE PAINTING, as advertised on theonline selling site

I have scoured art books to find out who the painter is, but I have not been successful. The closest was an artist named Turino M. Sanchez, listed as a member of the Philippine Arts Guild in the the book, “The Struggle for Philippine Art”. I have also checked online sites auctions selling art, and  found one or two vintage T.I. Sanchez paintings with prices ranging from $16 to $350, but no info on the artist.

I sent a shout-out to art aficionados and had a response from an art collector who saw a similar painting for sale in a Long Beach flea market.  

Courtesy of Mr. Wuth Franza

Surprise, surprise! The artwork was not only painted by the same artist, but he painted the same subject too. The two looked almost identical, except that they were painted a year apart.
IDENTICAL T. SANCHEZ PAINTING, painted 1963, courtesy of Wuth Franz

At this point, finding the real name and background of this painting has become irrelevant. It’s the folksy appeal of the piece that is more important to me. When  at last, I cleaned the painting, its vibrant colors were revealed.

After a bit of retouching, I had the painting re-stretched and then re-framed. The results are on this spread.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

65. Filipiniana: A PORTRAIT BUST OF “JOSEFA”

I have been collecting bits and pieces of Filipiniana of all sorts—and one field of collecting interest are old Philippine busts. I have about a dozen portrait busts—Rizal, Bonifacio, Maria Clara, Macarthur, and some unknown personalities—made of wood, composition and cast cement. 

So, when this bust of a lady came into the market, I decided to acquire it to add to my collection. A bust is generally a portrait intended to record the appearance of an individual, but may sometimes represent a type, in this case, a Filipina type.

 It is very unusual for its tiny size, standing no more than 4.5 inches, including its plinth, which has an incised date of 1931. It may have been carved as a practice piece to test the skill of a student carver in shaping and carving the details.

But what drew me to this piece is its uncanny likeness to a Filipina war heroine—the socio-civic leader Josefa Llanes Escoda.  Of course, her martyrdom was still over a decade away, so this could not have been a memorial piece, but by 1931, Josefa was a prominent figure as a social worker, a civic leader and a champion of nationalism and women’s suffrage.

 In 1940, she founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. Tragically, she was captured by the Japanese for her underground activities during the war, and was presumed executed on 6 Jan. 1945.

That’s how I came to call my tiny wooden bust, “Josefa”. With her head slightly turned to the left, she has the exact middle-parted, marcel-curled hair that Josefa Llanes-Escoda sported in her extant pictures, a style popular in the late 1920s-30s. She is carved wearing a collared Western dress (Escoda favored the baro’t saya) and a bead necklace hangs from her neck.

“Josefa” is a fine example of Filipino skill and artistry, in a period where Western influences began intruding on our artistic traditions and making lasting impressions until today. 


Friday, August 31, 2018


FIRST FOUR. The first ever Filipina Olympians--Francisca Sanopal, Manolita Cinco, Getrudes Lozada
and Jocelyn von Giese, march proudly into the Melbourne Olympic Stadium, with M. Shea, an official.

Praises continue to be heaped on the  Filipina athletes at the 2018 Asia Games in Palembang, Indonesia for their Gold Meal feats. And rightfully so, for the women—Hidylin Diaz (Weightlifting), the team of Yuki Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan, Lois Kaye Go (Golf) and Margielyn Didal (Skateboard)—outdid their male counterparts this time who still have to win  one. But half a century before, four Filipina athletes distinguished themselves by becoming the first women from the country to compete in the quadrennial Olympics--the premiere sporting event of the world.

Actually, since 1924, the country has been sending athletes to the summer games —but all males. But this changed at the  XVI Olympiad in the 1956 Melbourne Games in Australia, when 4 Filipinas saw action for the first time in various sports disciplines. Making history were: Manolita Cinco (80m hurdles), Gertrudez Lozada (100m, 400m freestyle), Francisca Sanopal (80m hurdles), and Jocelyn von Giese (100m backstroke). Let’s meet these pioneering Filipina athletes who were the first to flex their Pinay Power, long before the golden triumphs of our girls in the recent Asiad.
The Philippines’ top female low hurdler of the 1950s, Francisca Sanopal (b. 1931) was unbeatable in her specialty—the 80 meter hurdles. The national champion was sent to Melbourne to compete in her favorite event. She ran in the qualifying Heat 5, clocking in at 11.8 secs. (hand-timed) or 12.15 (automatic time),good enough for 5th place. Francisca bettered her time in 1957, with an 11.4 clocking.  In 1958, she made her presence felt at the Asian Games in Tokyo, winning two Silvers (80 m. hurdles, behind Japan’s Michiko Iwamoto/ 4x 100 meter relay, with Inocencia Solis, Rogelia Ferrer, and Irene Penuela).

Manolita Cinco (born 1932), like Francisca, was a topnotch low hurdler at 80 meters, but she was also a champion sprinter. No wonder, she, too, was sent to the Melbourne Olympics to compete in an event where teammate Francisca Sanopal was already entered. She ran in Heat 3, and registered a hand-time clocking of 12.1 seconds (12.20, automatic time), placing 7th and last. This experience served her well, as Manolita was won the Bronze two years later at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, behind Francisca, who secured the Silver. A cancer survivor later in life, Manolita is married to Alejano Dopeno. Of the athletes of her generation, she says:“Disiplinado  kami noon at  masunurin  sa  coach. Walang  incentives  na  pera pero serious kami  lahat .Back then, we were disciplined and we obeyed our coach. We didn’t receive any incentive,  but we were all serious).”

Gertrudes or “Tuding” Lozada, born in 1943, came from the famous swimming Lozada Family which originated swim schools in the country. Two other sisters, Corazon and Tessie would become world-class swimmers like her. But it was Tuding who was first to display her skill in the pool, winning races early in various age meets in the country. Soon, she was beating adults at sprints and middle-distance swimming races. Tuding surprised everyone when she was named as member of the Philippine swimming team for the 1956 Melbourne Olympiad—she was just 13.

When the Philippine Team landed in Melbourne, Tuding became a media sensation. Newsmen covering the world’s premiere sporting event called the young teener, “Baby of the Olympics”.  She was widely photographed and even athletes from other countries sought out the Filipina swimming prodigy to make her acquaintance. Tuding competed in two events—the 100 meter freestyle where she placed last in her heat, and in the 400 meter free, where she placed 6th.

Tuding would have a long career—winning Gold and Silver at the 1958 Asian Games( 400 meter free, 4x100 m. freestyle); she was just 15. She would win more medals at the 1962 Asian Games (Silver, Bronze fr 4x100 free, 4x100 individual medley). Tuding , the youngest Philippine Olympian in history (Akiko Thompson was almost 14 when she competed in her first Olympics in Seoul), retired from competitive swimming shortly in the 1970s, and today, she runs a swimming school bearing her name.

Jocelyn (b. 1936) belongs to the sensational swimming von Giese sisters of the Philippines. Sisters Sonia, Sandra (b. 15 Nov. 1939), and Sylvia all made the national team that competed abroad, with the 2 elder girls making it to the Olympics. Of German-Filipino parentage, the four were nieces of famous actress Paraluman (Sigrid Von Giese,  in real life) which was played up in media every time they competed.

 In 1956, Jocelyn qualified for the Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia and went on to compete in the 100 meter backstroke event. She swam in Heat 2 of the preliminary races, clocking in at 1:20.0, placing 7th and last. But it was a good experience for the 21-year old, as in the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games, Jocelyn, along with sister  Sandra, Victoria Cagayat and Haydee Coloso won Gold with a time of  5:22.2 minutes after the disqualification of the Japanese team.Meanwhile, Sonia made it to the Rome Olympics in 1960. There have been many swimming siblings in Philippine swimming like the Lozadas, Kiunisalas, Borjas and Papas, but none as celebrated in their time as the beautiful sisters Von Giese, led by Jocelyn von Giese.

PROGRESS ’56, p. 229 (Bio,Stats, Results), for Francisca, Sanopal, Manolita Cinco, Gertrudes Lozada, Jocelyn von Giese,

Friday, August 24, 2018

59. FILIPINA BATHING BEAUTIES: Evolving Swimwear and Sensibilities

AMERICAN BATHING BEAUTIES through the years. (1900s-1950s)

America introduced to the world a new pictorial genre of the female shape that would come to be known as the Bathing Beauty. The rapid evolution of the swimsuit contributed to this phenomenon, which transformed from heavy, shapeless outfits in the early 1900s to the two-piece bikini which showed more shape, skin and sass.

1940s PIN-UP ICON, BETTY GRABLE, posing in her bathing suit, painted on the nose of 
the B-17 Flying Fortress, nicknamed ‘Sentimental Journey’. 1944.
            Image: The Star, WWII Bomber visits Canada, Along with 1940s Pin-up Icon:   

The American Bathing Beauty, however, was seen not in Olympic pools as a competitor, but as a sexy inspiration (or distraction) for thousands of American boys marching off to world wars. Who can forget the indelible image of  a swimsuit-clad actress Betty Grable and her million dollar legs, painted on the nose of a bomber plane? Or the millions of pin-up posters of Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Lamour,  Carole Landis and Noel Neill that adorned the walls of soldiers’ bunkhouses?


On the beach, instead of warding off the male gaze with maximum body coverage, it now became acceptable (even a little patriotic) for women to begin to respond to masculine attention, as well as to gratify the camera’s eye.

However, the image of a Filipina as a Bathing Beauty was inconceivable even at the height of the American presence in the Philippines (1920s-1930s), where influence in fashion styles and mores was at its strongest. While it was true that sajonistas took to wearing flapper dresses and  shorter skirts, the donning of a swimsuit took much daring and courage.

EAST MEETS WEST. 1929 Miss Philippines Pacita de los Reyes shakes the hand of 
1926 Miss America, Mary Campbell. Their attires are still a world apart.
Photo: Alex Castro Collection.

For all her exposure to American modernism that includes images of provocatively aggressive Western vixens, the Filipina still held fast to her age-old values shaped by her culture and religion, as exemplified by Rizal’s Maria Clara character from his novel, “Noli Me Tangere” .

The religious Maria Clara was depicted as a woman of virtue, a pure soul—“shy, demure and self-effacing, loyal to the end”. Rizal exalted her as the ideal image of a Filipina deserving of a place on the “pedestal of male honor”. Maria Clara also perpetuated a native attire that required a woman to be swathed in layers upon layers of clothing pieces, beginning with a camisa, a voluminous saya, a pañuelo, and  tapis that were laboriously tucked, pin, and wrapped around her body.

MARIA CLARA UNWRAPPED. Left, Maiden in baro’t saya, sitting on a river rock, early 1900s. 
Right: Actress Rosa Rosal in a bathing suit, sitting on a river rock, 1951.
            Photo: Alex Castro Collection.

Over time, beginning in the 1930s, the Filipina began to shed off these layers—one piece at a time--as new ideas of leisure and recreation began to emerge. So did a new flirtatiousness in swimwear design that called for comfort, ease of movement and freedom. Bulky fabrics, corsets and unsightly undergarments were abandoned, necessitating the exposure of and collarbones, ankles and elbows, cleavage, and more flesh, slowly but surely. Then, in the 1950s, the rise of contemporary beauty pageants began making the wearing of swimsuits de riguer for candidates.  And so, ikevenus arising from the sea,  the Filipina Bathing Beauty was born.

PRE-SPANISH: Wrapped and Ready for Her Bath

Jesuit Pedro Chirino’s book “Relacion de las Islas Filipinas”, published in Rome in 1604, not only gave us  an excellent description of  17th century Philippines, but also its inhabitants—our forebears--by chronicling their daily habits. In fact, a whole chapter was devoted to the Filipinos’ bathing practices.

 BAYWATCH BABES. Filipina bathers in wrap-around sarongs take a 
plunge at the Manila Bay in Ermita area, ca. late 1800s.
            Image: Fernando, Gilda Cordero., Turn of the Century, GCF Books, Quezon City, Philippines. © 1978. P. 60.

“From the day they are born these islanders are raised in the water, and so from childhood both men and women swim like fish and have no need of a bridge to cross rivers.” Of the female bathers, Chirino noted: “They bathe at all hours indiscriminately, for pleasure and cleanliness…They bathe crouching and almost sitting down, out of modesty, with water up to their neck and with extreme care not to expose themselves, even if there is no one around to see them…”

A PUBLIC BATH HOUSE FROM 1792. Filipinos, mostly women,  
swimming and frolicking in the privacy of a bath house.
            Image: Juan Ravenet. "Casa de baños en Manila" (Bath houses in Manila). 
1792. Museo    Naval (Madrid) Collection.

People then preferred to take their baths at sunset, after work, in a river. By the late 18th century, public baths were seen in Manila, both patronized by men and women. An old print shows such an example, where a portion of a body of water was enclosed with nipa and bamboo and equipped with steps and handrails.

VISAYAN BELLE IN A PATADYONG, a pre-Spanish wrap-around loose skirt worn 
by women, especially in the Visayan lowlands, similar to the Indonesian sarong.
            Image: Best, Jonathan. A Philippine Album. American Era Photographs 1900-1930. 
Bookmark, Makati City, 1998.p. 30.

The bathing outfits of these early Filipinas included wrap-around skirts or tube skirts (patadyong or malong) with ends gathered and tucked in, under the armpits. Others seem to be taking a dip in their basic house clothes—blouses and skirt. In any case, they seemed to be oblivious to their various states of deshabille, lost in the enjoyment of their aquatic moment.

THE SPANISH PERIOD (1800s-early 1900s) : Swimming With Your Saya On.

Fashion in 19th century Philippines brought a new sense of modesty, aligned with the dictates of social and  Catholic religious  attitudes.  One wore a collarless camisa  with a folded pañuelo  pinned over it to hide the cleavage. Matched with a full, wide skirt (saya) with a long trains, the skirt was then wrapped once more  with knee-length overskirt called tapis.

WADE IN THE WATER. Believe it or not, women dressed in simplified baro’t saya plus a head covering, even for water excursions. Taken at San Juan Baño, Arayat, already a favorite resort destination back in the 1900s.
            Image: Alex R. Castro Collection

Outdoorsy Filipinas often went to picnic dressed in simplified versions of such native outfits—but with a shorter saya, minus the pañuelo,  and a bandana to cover the head. The bakya was an indispensable foot gear, as the wooden shoes can taken off anytime for quick river wade.

The same was true in the Western world—American ladies in the 1870s trooped to the beach completely covered, wearing unflattering woolen bathing suits that hid both arms and legs. Many women even wore stockings and lace-up shoes to the beach.  Sailor-inspired suits worn with bloomers or drawers came into vogue in Europe, but this did not catch on in the Philippines, although these became popular with Filipino children.


1910s: The Shape of Things To Come.
The  Australian“underwater ballerina”, Annette Kellerman, created a sensation—and a outrage—when she came to the U.S. in 1907 to perform her famous swimming and diving act, dressed in a formfitting swimsuit that bared her arms, legs and neck. So controversial was her swimsuit that in Boston, she was arrested for indecent exposure.

SOMETHING NEW, SOMETHING OLD. A group of female excursionists.  Note the younger girls in Western-style swim-suits. The girl with a head wrap in the foreground has covered herself with a floor-length robe. The rest—who probably just waded in the river—are in low-waisted American fashions. The matrons are still in their baro’t saya.
            Image: Alex R. Castro Collection

Kellerman was vindicated when the 1912 Summer Olympics accepted female swimmers from 17 countries  to compete in the aquatics events. Seven swimmers wore one-piece swimsuits similar to Kellerman’s.  Carl Jantzen, whose Portland Knitting Company in Oregon created rowing suits for athletes, was inspired to design and market the first functional two-piece swimwear of wool, a close-fitting one-piece with short sleeves on top and shorts on the bottom. This would later be improved in 1915,  with the launch of the first rib-stitched Jantzen brand in 1915, also the first to be called as “swim suit”.

SWIMMING UNDER THE INFLUENCE. An early picture of Filipinas bathing in 
Western clothes, discreetly taken with men around. Ca 1918.
Image: Alex R. Castro Collection

Women switched to this new “swimsuit”, as shoulders and legs became more interesting enough to be exposed. Finally, they had a swim wear designed for the public display of these liberties, and not just for the free play of active bodies.

Demure Filipinas found this American view too hard to accept. With Catholic conservatism deeply-entrenched in our culture, the thought of displaying one’s body in these skin-revealing suits was just appalling. Torn between her values and the call of American modernism, it would take more time and effort for a Filipina to start removing the veneers of her old-fashioned modesty.

ROLLING IN THE DEEP.  In these dresses, these girls look more suitably garbed for shopping than for swimming. One is even in a long-sleeved dress. In contrast, the boys have no trouble getting into their swimwear. Image: Alex R. Castro Collection

But, she was willing to compromise. She ditched her baro’t saya for the more conveniently-designed and lighter Western dress, which she wore in her beach and river excursions. It was a strange compromise—especially when one sees photos of girls in ruffle-collared dresses with their male friends in swimsuits---but the Filipina Bathing Beauty is getting there, one little dainty step at a time.

1920s: The Filipina In The Swim of Things, Finally.
 The first swimming pool in the Philippines was constructed at Fort McKinley, when the YMCA opened in 1907. Soon, swimming pools were all over the city, including those of the American Columbian Club, YMCA Manila,, Manila Polo Club, which spurred interest in water sports.

POLO CLUB PADDLERS. American women and their children taking a dip  in
 the exclusive-for-Americans only swimming pool of Manila Polo Club, ca. 1926.
            Image: Van Den Muijzenberg, Otto. The Philippines Through American Lenses.
 Ateneo    de Manila University Press, 2008. P. 159.

At first, only American men were invited to participate in aquatic events as in the case with American Columbian Club’s first swimming meet in 1911. The next year, the meet was opened to Filipino swimmers. Up until the 1913 Far East Games held in Manila, only male swimming events were on the program.

It was only in the 1920s that water sports were opened to Filipinas when the University of the Philippines and Philippine Women’s College began training students in competitive swimming as part of their Physical Education subjects. American women by then, wear donning new swimsuits that were more figure-hugging than any previous swimwear. Upper thighs came into view, and the natural lines of the body were visible at last.

SWIMSUIT COMPETITION. The pioneer batch of Filipina swimmers 
posing in period swimsuits before their competition at the Philippine Natatorium, 1925.
            Image: Philippine Progress Report, “Fashion on the Go”, 1957.

As expected, Filipinas were slow to follow this fashion trend. When the pioneering U.P. Filipina swimmers made their first appearance at a swimming meet in 1925 at the Philippine Natatorium in Manila, they were dressed in swimsuits alright, but in styles that were at least 10 years behind. While the sleeveless tops freed the arms, the bottoms were still loose, bulky drawers and baggy bloomers.

1930s: Streamlined Ladies and Sarong Girls
In the more Americanized 1930s, Filipinas began embracing western-style couture. There was nary a problem with wearing skimpy swimsuits in the competition pool. Swimming was becoming a popular women’s sport, and during the 1934 Far East Games trials, U.P. mermaids came dressed in close-fitted knits that permitted real swimming. The athletic swimsuits had a daringly-low cut back, that were also perfect for the new sunbathing fad.

ATHLETIC CUT.  Swimmers in official competitive swimwear at the 
1934 Far East Games National Trials. Among those who made the cut for 
the national team were the two daughters of jurist-hero Jose Abad Santos: Amanda and Luz.
            Image: Graphic Magazine, May 10, 1934, p. 28

Outside of the sports arena, wearing the new swimsuits was done with more caution. Many still recall how Violeta Lopez, a  leading candidate for the 1930  Manila Carnival Queen crown dashed all hopes of victory, when she refused to wear a bathing suit during a pre-judging event. Her defiance won her praise, and she was hailed for her courage in a time when the nation was experiencing a breakdown of this “womanly virtue of modesty”.

U.P. MERMAID. Rosario Ruiz Zorrilla was in the same batch with Violeta Lopez, the candidate who lost in the 1930 Manila Carnival Queen search supposedly for refusing to wear a swimsuit. Zorrilla took up swimming at U.P, so wearing a bathing suit was no big deal. She placed 4th at the finals.
            Image: Woman’s Home Companion, 1975.

The 1930s also saw the rise of a new Bathing Beauty mold that was a perfect fit for the Filipina. Western eyes have always been fascinated with visions of a long-tressed,  island girl in a wrap-around skirt. She would become one of the indelible images associated with the exotic Far East, along with swaying palm trees, nipa huts and tropical jungle heat.

Hollywood would take this picture of a woman in a “sarong” (a Malay term for a skirt wrap) and perpetuate it on screen while holding her up as shapely icon of the South Seas. 

CAN’T GO WRONG WITH A SARONG. Actress Leila Moreno, channeling the aura 
of a strong and sultry South Sea maiden, in her tropical print sarong.
            Image Alex R. Castro Collection

While Hollywood had their “Sarong Queen” in Dorothy Lamour, the Philippines had the likes of Rosa del Rosario, who appeared sarong-clad in the 1937 film, “Zamboanga”, a saga set in the Sulu Sea. In later years, actresses like the curvaceous Lilia Dizon (dubbed as “Bathaluman of the Philippines” ) and Leila Moreno would join the sarong set.

ISLAND GIRL. Covergirl Virginia Warne as an sarong-wrapped jungle beauty. 
She became the wife of Bob Razon, dean of glamour photography. 
            Image: Quintos, Floy, ed., Bob Razon: A Life Devoted to the Salon Style.

The birth of salon photography  that flowered in the 1930s—led by Sun, Venus, Trianggulo and Juan dela Cruz Studio—further imprinted this type of Filipina Bathing Beauty in the minds of Filipinos.  It would be elevated to fine art with Bob Razon , when he established his renowned studio “Bob’s” along Avenida in 1946. For the next decades, Bob’s would immortalize Filipinas at their most glamorous, in or out of their swimsuits.

1940s: Bosom Bodies 
In 1940, the stirrings of a world war were still far from the consciousness of Filipinos who continued to bask in the relative prosperity of the peacetime era.  Excursions, picnics and swimming parties preoccupied the leisure time of the young generation.
In the years before the war, female swimwear made great strides in styling. Focus shifted from the long sexy legs to the woman’s bosom, which was accentuated through swimsuits that molded the breasts with shirrings, darts and tucks.

IN THE BOSOM OF FRIENDS. A girl gang at a poolside resort. The first three girls are wearing the newer swimsuit styles that accentuate the breasts, and the rest are wearing cotton dresses. 1940.

A few brave Filipinas tried this kind of swimsuit  but a majority still  wore bahing dresses with short skirts that were a throwback from past generations—although improved with the use of lighter fabrics and prettified with colorful prints.

IMELDIFIC BODY. Teenager Imelda Marcos in a contemporary 
bust-defining bathing suit, but with a skirt bottom. 
          Image: Pedrosa, C. The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos. 
1st ed. Parañaque City: Navarro .Pedrosa Publishing, 1969.

Filipinas were not quite ready to have their bosom become their centers of attention, so they deferred wearing this new fashion statement for the next decade, with the launch of sponsored beauty contests that would become our national obsession.

Just when everyone thought that world peace had been attained in 1946, French designer Louis Réard dropped the bomb with a scanty outfit made from 4 tiny triangle fabric pieces. He had a stripper model his creation in a poolside fashion show, and a new swimwear—and scandal—was born: the Bikini.

1950s: Beauties, Bombshells and Bikinis

PAGEANT PATTY: An early beauty pageant in Manila. 1953
            Image: Alex R. Castro Collection

The fifties decade proved to be a major turning point for swimwear design as well as  Filipino attitude towards Western modernism in sartorial style. On record, the first post-war national beauty contest was the 1947 corporate pageant of Philippine Airlines that saw the crowning of Evangelina de Castro as Miss Philippines. In 1951, the first Boys Town-sponsored search for Miss Philippines was held, a title won by Teresita Villareal.

FIGURE FLATTERY.  Jean Sanderson, a 1952 Miss Philippines candidate, stuns in
 this figure-hugging swimsuit that molded the breasts—perfect for more provocative posing.
            Image: The Sunday Times Magazine

In 1952, when Miss Universe-- “the First International Tournament of Beauties”--was launched by United Pictures International, Catalina Swim Suits, and Pan-Am Airways, the Philippines was invited to send its delegate for the planned 1953 event in Long Beach. Local organizers sounded a call for applicants, with a clear  stipulation  that the girls must be ready to wear bathing suits, as the international contest rules made it mandatory for the contestants to wear Catalina-made swimsuits in Long Beach.

WHO’S GOT THE OOMPH?  Miss Philippines Teresita Sanchez gingerly takes 
her place among bathing beauties competing at the first-ever 1953 Miss Universe Pageant.
            Image: George Silk © LIFE Archives

And so, when U.S.T. secretarial student Teresita Sanchez was crowned as the first-ever Miss Philippines, she became the first ever Filipina to compete in a bathing suit at an international beauty pageant.

SMIZE IT, GIRL!. Miss Philippines 1952, Teresita Sanchez, tries to look fierce for the camera.
Image: George Silk © LIFE Archives

 Sanchez wore a modern strapless Catalina swim suit cinched at the waist, which provided support for the bust from below, thus highlighting the female torso. Judging from her photos from the contest, our lovely bet seemed ill at ease exposing her body to the universe.

NAVEL ATTRACTION! Actress Lydia Montañez wears a bare midriff number consisting of a bra and short trunks for this 1951 film Note the blurb: “the picture with legs and one big heart”.Image: Alex R.Castro Collection

Two swimwear fads from previous decades would go mainstream in the 1950s and create quite a splash. The “Bare Midriff” was seen as early as the 1930s, where the two-piece midriff-baring creation consisting of a bra and shorts-like trunks were favored by women in posh, private resorts. Though considered vulgar to be worn in public, similar designs of midriff-baring suits and tops were often seen in American teen magazines in the 1950s. 

GIRL IN A BIKINI. The bikini is forever associated with French femme fatale
 Brigitte Bardot ever since she graced the Cannes Film Fest in the sexy floral two-piece in 1951.

The aforementioned salacious Bikini that shocked the world in 1946 started to achieve a measure of acceptance when blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot wore a floral bikini at the Cannes Filmfest in 1953. She popularized a trend continued by Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress, who flaunted the risqué swimwear in films and in public beaches.

Their Filipina counterparts, however, no matter how daring and open they claim to be, would not touch the Bikini until the 1960s—with sex sirens Divina Valencia and Stella Suarez showing the way.

1960s: Two-Piece Eye Treats
While California Girls were cavorting on beaches in their itsy-bitsy string bikinis, Filipina ladies continued to be wary of the Bikini. Beauty contests have been attracting colegialas from Catholic schools in limited number, due to the strict rules of these institutions against improper behavior. Wearing of swimsuits was deemed indecent,  parading before a leering audience was a bigger sin.

ROYALTY IN PLAYSUITS. Miss Philippines 1963, Lalaine Bennett 
was crowned in a playsuit, along with her court.
            Image: Sunday Times Magazine, 1963.

As such, two-piece bare midriff outfits became the safer alternatives to the bikini—“playsuits” they call them, which looked more like abbreviated resort wear than swimsuits. Miss Philippines 1963 Lalaine Bennett was crowned in a white playsuit, consisting of a sleeveless top and body-hugging shorts that hid the navel. The experience  was unnerving for many of the contestants.

SUITED FOR THE CROWN. Gemma Cruz wowed the crowds watching the 1965 Miss International with her swimsuit presentation, even if it was her first time to parade in one before an audience. Gloria Diaz, on the other hand, made it as one of the Top 10 Best in Swimsuit at the Miss Universe 1969 contest.
Image: Sunday Times Magazine, 1964, 1969.

Gemma Cruz had to go through the same experience the next year, but at the Miss International Contest in Long Beach, she refused to wear a swimsuit for a pictorial. At the session, she put on a Maria Clara costume while her fellow candidates were in swimsuits. During the actual contest which had a swimsuit competition segment, Gemma had no choice but to wear one. She acquitted herself well, gliding on stage in her official blue one-piece swimsuit—this, despite the fact that she had never worn one in public before. She went on to win the plum title of Miss International 1965. Four years later, Gloria Diaz would be adjudged one of the 10 Best in Swimsuit, en route to winning our first Miss Universe crown.

 A BEVY OF BIKINI BODS. In the 1966 film, “Sungit Conference”, 
actor Rodolfo Garcia plays the role of a secret agent, shown here flanked by
            Image: Video 48

For up and coming showbiz sexpots, there was very little hesitation in wearing the teeny-weeny Bikini.  One of the earliest actresses to wear them was Divina Valencia and her arch rival, Stella Suarez. Valencia wore one in 1964, for the film  “Agent 69” starring Max Alvarado. In 1966, Lucita Soriano wore a hot pink bikini number for the 1966 movie, “Sungit Conference” along with a bevy of alluring starlets.

Local ”bikini” movies, patterned after the Elvis beach movies,  were also produced in 1967:  “Bikini Beach Party” and “The Gold Bikini”, which starred American import Elizabeth Thompson and Stella Suarez.

1970s-80s: The Way of the Flesh
Inhibitions were finally let loose in the revolutionary 1970s as Filipinas in all their swimsuited glory became the object of affection of camera lenses. While the standard of this era was the simple, low-cut, one-piece swimsuit popularized by Farrah Fawcett, the saucy bikini was finding its way on the pages of PIC, the first local girlie magazine published in 1971.

SCARLETT FEVER. One of the more famous star from the age of 
“bomba” movies of the 70s, Scarlett Revilla, sizzles in a bikini. 1971.

            Image: PIC Magazine

The barrier-breaking publication devoted photos of Filipinas who bared more for the eager eyes of the world, never mind the lousy quality of print production. Some of those who posed in and out their bikinis  were stars of the “bomba” craze: Yvonne, Rizza, Monica Locca, Scarlett Revilla. But many more were young, ambitious ingenues willing to take a shortcut to stardom through skin shows on print.

BIKINI WATCH: A shapely model in a Madras print bikini, modest by today’s standards. 1971.
            Image: PIC Magazine

The 70s decade saw much experimentation with swimsuit fabrics, with designers working with leather, velvet, crocheted squares, fur and metallic Lurex. A breaktrhough synthetic fiber fabric was developed in the 80s, that would give competitive swimming a big boost. Spandex (an acronym of “expands’) and Lycra swimwear felt like second skin yet it also had superior elasticity and strength.

STAR FOR ALL SWIMWEAR. Vilma Santos vamps it up in a high-cut dance swimsuit in a TV show.
            Image: Fashion Pulis

Style-wise, swimwear with high cut bottoms were all the rage, as they give maximum exposure to a woman's legs and thighs to the max, elongating the silhouette while showing off her natural contours. High cut leg swimsuits would not only drive the popularity of tangas and thongs, but would also spawn a new beauty service business: waxing. Media censors were mortified to see cheek-baring tangas worn on TV by sexy  dancing stars like “Tanga Queen” Alma Moreno and Vilma Santos.

BARE AND BROWN IS BEAUTIFUL. Tetchie Agbayani, simply bodacious on the pages of Playboy.
            Image: Video 48

But a 21 year-old Filipina beauty queen would take the display of feminine sensuality to the extreme in 1982—not in a swimsuit, but in her birthday suit.  Tetchie Agbayani made history by becoming the first Filipina to pose nude for the German edition of  Hefner’s famous Playboy Magazine.  By so doing, she showed us how to be comfortable in our own skin, though hounded no end by moral crusader Polly Cayetano. Agbayani also proved that swimsuits don’t make a woman, but the confidence to do what she believes in.  Which is why the world has never lost sight of the beautiful Filipina,  not even for for a second, ever since. 

Timeline of Art History The Bikini:
Hollander, Anne. “Swimsuit Illustrated”, American Heritage, July/August 1990.pp. 58-65.
“A Smalltown Parades its Beauties”, Sunday Times Magazine, January 13, 1957
“The Bathing Suit in Asia”, Sunday Times Magazine, April 19, 1959

Photo, Bomber with Betty Grable: The Star, WWII bomber visits Canada, along with 1940s pin-up icon:
Photo, U.P. Swimmers at the Far East Games trials: May 10, 1934 issue, p. 28
Photo, Rosa Rosal, Movie Song Literary Magazine, 1951
Photo, Teresita Sachez at Miss Universe 1952: George Silk © LIFE Archives
Photo, Lucita Soriano: Agent 69: Video 48