At the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman campus, the University Main Library’s third floor houses the University Archives and Records Depository (UPIANA) and the School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS). Decades ago, the Main Library was the home of the College of Fine Arts (CFA). Named after the the 6th U.P. President, Bienvenido M. Gonzalez, the Gonzalez Hall was designed and completed by the National Artist for Architecture Juan Felipe Nakpil (1899-1986) in 1950.
Upon entering the Main Library’s 3rd floor, the first object that greets visitors is Guillermo Tolentino’s original sculpture of the “Pahinungod, Oblasyon” (“Oblation” for short), which has become the symbol of the University of the Philippines itself. The “Oblation” was inspired by the second stanza of Dr. Jose Rizal’s letter “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Last Farewell), written in 1896, before his execution by the Spanish authorities. Completed by Tolentino in 1939, the “Oblation” once stood at the U.P. Manila campus, until its transfer to the Diliman campus in 1949.
Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890 -1976) is a classical sculptor who was named National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Tolentino took his art studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and later at the Ecole de Beux Arts. In 1926, he started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and he would later be given the position of director. Tolentino sculpted the University of the Philippines’ most recognizable emblem, the “U.P. Oblation”, as well as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. He was also awarded the UNESCO Cultural Award in Sculpture in 1959, Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture in 1963, Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1967, President’s Medal of Merit in 1973, and the Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1972, before given the highest honor as National Artist.
Another telltale sign that the 3rd floor was once the abode of the CFA is the large 1981 mural of taro plants by Jesus Española. This painting can be found above the entrance to the School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS).
Jesus “Jess” Española is a graduate of the U.P. College of Fine Arts, and he has moved to the United States of America to become an animator. Española is known to be one of the animators behind the popular TV series “The Simpsons”, “King of the Hill” and “Futurama”. His work on “Futurama” has garnered him an Emmy Award in 2002, and another Emmy for “The Simpsons” in 2006. Española is the first Filipino to ever be given that honor. Other awards given to Española are the Pamana Award in 2000, Reflection XII Award in 2000, Celebrity Chronicles Award in 2001, Pampanga Day Celebration Commission Professional Excellence Award in 2008, FASGI American Dream Award 2009, and MOKA – Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awards in 2010.
At the University Records: Personal Papers Section office, on display is the collection of trophies and artworks of Emanuel V. Soriano (born 1936), 14th president (1979–1981) of the University of the Philippines. Parts of the collection are some pieces by Napoleon Abueva, including the UP CBA Public Service Award, which Abueva designed in 1987.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
Another interesting piece in the collection is the Oblation Award, as designed by Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso. The Oblation Award is a tradition of the U.P. Vanguard fraternity, and is given to alumni members who have “shown honorable leadership, excellence, talent, integrity and hard work for many years”.
Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso is the chancellor of the University of the Philippines, Open University. Alfonse first graduated from the U.P. College of Fine Arts, then took her MA Humanities in Art History and Ph.D Communication, University of the Philippines. Alfonso has garnered many honors, as she has specialized in many disciplines such as: Photography, TV Directing, Film and Video Production, AV Management, Visual Communication, Film Theory, Film Criticism, Film Research, Sculpture, and Painting. For all her work at the U.P and other professional institutions, she has been bestowed the title of University Artist II, by her alma mater.
Another interesting bust in the collection is that of Gabriel Fabella (1898-1982), which is undated and unsigned. Fabella is most known as the father of the “Philippine Independence Day”, which he had fought hard to change the date from the American designated July 4, to the historically accurate June 12. Fabella graduated Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science in Education, and Master of Arts degrees from the University of the Philippines and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Manila. Fabella was a known lawyer, educator, and politician during his lifetime. He taught at the U.P. from 1923 to 1958, and he became the Acting Director of the UP Extension in Clark Air Base until 1960.
Hidden in the racks of University Records is a small bust of the Spanish Occupation (1521-1898) reformist and Philippine National Hero Dr. José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda (1861-1896), which is undated and unsigned. However, looking at the style of the work, it seems to be a piece by Guillermo Tolentino.
At the University Archives and Records Depository (UPIANA) Preservation Services Section, there is a collection of busts of Philippine heroes, which we sculpted by Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974), in the 1930s. These busts once graced the U.P. Library in Manila, before they were transferred along with the “Oblation” in 1949. Sadly, these wooden pieces are now breaking apart due to decades of exposure to the elements, and their location at the open windowed offices are causing greater harm to the artworks. Beneath each bust is a quote from a writing of each hero.
Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974) was a noted classical sculptor, who made his niche during the American Occupation. Nepomuceno studied painting painting under Miguel Zaragoza y Aranquizna (1847- 1923) at Liceo Filipino, and sculpture under prize-winning sculptor Ciriaco Arevalo. Aside from beautiful symbolical wooden sculptures, he is also known for creating the decorative panels at the Malacañang Palace and the façade of Metropolitan Theater. Nepomuceno is also known for his intricately sculpted santos (saints).
I will discuss in detail each sculpture of Nepomuceno, on the next article, as there much to be discovered about each bust, at the Archives office. At the mean time, visitors and employees of the U.P. Main Library, as well as students and faculty of the SLIS, move about the building oblivious of the importance of these treasures that are all around them.