As a young woman growing up in her father’s shadow, Helen Amorsolo-Martinez had always slightly labored under a concern peculiar to offspring of celebrated art geniuses: she was her father’s daughter, so why didn’t she have the talent for painting?
Many years later, she now finds herself a vital part of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s artistic legacy, one that endures not in the least for its unparalleled depiction of an idyllic Philippine landscape, captured in a particular light.
Helen, along with sister Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo, were on hand at the recent opening of the exhibit dubbed “Fernando Amorsolo’s Art in DMC Cross-Stitch” at Galerie Y in Megamall (the show runs until May 12 at the fourth floor of SM Megamall A). A project of the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation and DMC, the global leader in high-quality threads (best known to my generation as the raw material for friendship bands, remember those?), the exhibit was a showcase of some of the maestro’s most famous works in cross-stitch, four of which were done by Helen.
“I picked up cross-stitching many years ago as something to pass the time, says Helen. “I started with making pillows, table linen, and other things for the home.” She started with patterns that were available (you might be right in thinking there were rabbits in the scene), and gradually moved on to recreating her father’s paintings — portraits, landscapes, and scenes of an idealized Filipino life.
For the pieces in the “Fernando Amorsolo’s Art in DMC Cross-Stitch” show, Helen says she worked on those for months; working, one might imagine, in the quiet, almost meditative rhythm that inevitably emerges in doing sacred activities. She was working with her father’s art, after all, with a large measure of reverence for the man and the artist who influenced generations and continues to do so, and coming into her own, fueled no doubt by the one encouragement that eliminated any creative insecurity. According to a coffee table book published by the Foundation, Helen spent much time at her father’s bedside, keeping him company while sewing. At some point, the maestro took a peek at her work and said, “Ang ganda ng binurda mo. Ikaw pala ang nag-mana sa ina ko.”
The creative streak is somewhat legendary in this family — Amorsolo’s mother, Bonifacia Cueto Amorsolo (who was a cousin of Fabian de la Rosa, another celebrated Filipino artist), had supported her young family by doing embroidery.
“That simple remark meant so much to me,” says Helen. “By comparing his beloved mother to me, he made me feel very close to him. More importantly, by acknowledging my own artistic endeavor, her made me part of his own magical world.”
It was this story that moved Gerry Mendoza, a senior brand manager at Focus Global Inc., the exclusive distributors of DMC in the Philippines, to propose a collaboration with Amorsolo’s heirs. DMC, looking for an avenue to promote local arts and culture, decided on Amorsolo in order “to share with the public, especially the younger generation of Filipinos, a way of life that is idealized despite hardships as seen through the eyes of a great visual artist whose love for his country is evident in his masterpieces.”
With the help of the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation, established by the late maestro’s children and grandchildren in charge of, among other things, compiling and cataloguing Amorsolo’s works (believed to be numbering over 30,000, many of which are in various private collections) and safeguarding his legacy, DMC launched into the arduous task of selecting the paintings, portraits and sketches for a line of patterns.
One of the foundation’s members and grandson of the revered visual artist, Fernando “Nandy” A. Lazo, found the project perfectly in sync with the Foundation’s other goal of making it possible for more people to appreciate Amorsolo’s works. He says, “My grandfather’s realistic renditions of Filipinos and their way of life during a bygone era give us a glimpse of the nobility of the Filipino spirit. Through his paintings and sketches of Philippine rural life we see the dignity of the Filipino in labor, his dedication to community and family, as well as his fun-loving nature. My grandfather painted what is ideal, what is virtuous and what is good about the Filipino.”
If the idea is indeed to bring Amorsolo’s works and Philippine art in general to an even bigger public, DMC’s new line of limited-edition Amorsolo patterns appears to be the perfect populist pitch: a traditional pastime that’s easy enough to learn, and that, in the end, will let you have that a piece of Amorsolo’s art. As with painting by numbers, the DMC patterns allow cross-stitching enthusiasts to recreate, stitch by stitch, the masterpieces that have, throughout all these years, portrayed our heritage in the best light.