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Purita Kalaw Ledesma: An accidental writer for the arts |

Arts and Culture

Purita Kalaw Ledesma: An accidental writer for the arts

Anne Marie Ozaeta - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The woman behind the Purita Kalaw Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism — now part of the annual Ateneo Art Awards — may have been a pioneer art scholar, but she never considered herself a writer.

Much has been written about Purita Kalaw Ledesma (born 100 years ago on Feb. 2, 1914) as a noted patroness of the arts, founder of the Art Association of the Philippines in 1948, and one of the main proponents of the country’s modern art movement. But what is perhaps less known is that she was a writer in her own right. While she never claimed to be one, and even felt less than confident about her writing skills, she nevertheless felt compelled to write, starting at the late age of 50 to publish four seminal books, including her own autobiography.

Purita Kalaw Ledesma chronicled her milieu, the artists she knew, and the radical changes she witnessed in the art world, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. With painstaking research, she documented all this in order that future generations could learn about the birth of the country’s modern art scene. The accidental writer that is Purita Kalaw Ledesma, in fact, helped lay the groundwork for art scholarship in the country, a testament to her passion for the arts and love of country.

Books By Purita Kalaw Ledesma


The Struggle for Philippine Art, written with Amadis Ma. Guerrero

This book is arguably the most comprehensive look at the post-war art world and a generation’s search for national identity. Featuring masterpieces by National Artists like Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, Fernando Zobel, H.R. Ocampo photographed from her own collection, the book chronicles in detail the battle between the conservatives and modernists and the founding of the Art Association of the Philippines.



Edades National Artist, written with Amadis Ma. Guerrero

This tribute to Victorio Edades and his work was published just three years after he became a National Artist. Edades may have been one of the earliest proponents of modernism, but she felt his crucial role in the development of modern art was not appreciated at the time, and thus his contributions needed to be studied and recognized.



The Biggest Little Room

As her thesis for her second master’s degree, which she completed at 72 years old, Purita decided to focus on the Philippine Art Gallery founded by Lyd Arguila as a meeting place for writers and artists like Hernando Ocampo, Fernando Zobel, Romeo Tabuena. Innovative in its design and incisive in its account of the many personalities drawn to this “biggest little room,” this book gives yet another detailed look at the burgeoning art scene in the country.



And Life Goes On

This autobiographical work affords a more intimate look at the life of Purita Kalaw Ledesma. She writes about how she fell in love with the arts, what daily life was like in pre-war Manila, as well as her friendships with many of our most revered visual artists. Featuring many period photographs, this book is a fascinating and nostalgic account of a cultural and social milieu, through the eyes of one of its central figures.

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The Ateneo Art Awards-Purita Kalaw Ledesma Prize for Art Criticism is being inaugurated this year by the Ateneo Art Gallery and the Kalaw Ledesma Foundation Inc. in partnership with The Philippine STAR in celebration of the 100th birth anniversary of this distinguished pioneer and patron of modern Philippine art.

Entries are invited. For information, visit or call Thea Garing at 426-6488. Deadline for submission is on March 31, 2014, with the winner to be announced during the Ateneo Art Awards ceremony in August 2014.

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