Reviving a ‘Lost’ Artwork
First, Saving Hands and Feet
Two years ago I was sent out to our Ambassador’s residence in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to do some work on an unusual tile artwork embedded in the large swimming pool in the back yard.
This work of art was created by the Picasso of the Philippines, Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981), in the early 60’s when the pool was constructed. Though he is quite famous in the Philippines, no one seems to be aware of this unusual work of art except our embassy and our Office of Cultural Heritage team.
The Initial Work
The tiles were cut and installed but never softened, resulting in edges still so sharp that swimmers occasionally cut their feet. I carefully ‘soft-ground’ the edges of more than 1000 tiles over 3 days with the help of the embassy mason, Delmar. I couldn’t have done it without him as it was mid-summer and hot even in the shade! I did 10 minutes at a time. Delmar in his special hat that completely covered his neck, did a 1/2 hour at a time. As a small token of my deep appreciation I gave him my beloved grinding tool.
Update: May, 2020
Back to Manila!
There is another problem with this artwork besides the sharp edges. Some tiles deteriorated and were replaced without matching the original colors or shapes. About 90 tiles were replaced. The photo on the right indicates replaced tiles – the ones with red dots. Luckily, replacement tile is all one distinct gray color, so it’s easy to spot the replacements. The original shapes were not as easy to determine – I had to study his artwork with similar elements to figure this out with certainty.
The Director of the Office of Cultural Heritage decided to not only restore this important and unusual artwork, but also track down relatives, Filipino cultural officials, and museum directors to plan a special dedication when the restoration is finished. This is an unusual work of art by a renown Filipino artist, so I anticipate interest outside of the family and the State Dept.
I was selected to lead this effort and spent a portion of the last year researching this piece to restore the original shapes and colors. That completed, I located a handmade tile manufacturer in Lisbon, Portugal to match the colors. That company, Viuva Lamego, completed the order and shipped the tile to Manila where it is awaiting my return.
I’ll bring a special tile cutting tool that enables one to cut curves in tile. I suspect that the lack of this tool may have been the reason the original tile shapes were not previously matched. I plan to show the mason how to use this piece of equipment and then leave it for him so that he can do future tile replacement as needed and maintain this valuable artwork.
- Related Projects:
- Art Restoration in Istanbul
- Conservation of the Buddha
- Sculpture Installation in Athens
- Ceramic Restoration
The artwork is so large that no photo exists showing the entire piece. During my next trip I’ll find a photographer to take drone overhead photos.
I located 2 granddaughters of the artist. One is an expert on her grandfather’s artwork. I continue to follow leads and hope to locate many more interested parties.
As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic allows me to travel, I will return, hopefully by the fall or winter of this year.
The US Dept of State May newsletter features cultural heritage projects including 2 of mine! Take a look.