In Memoriam Ben-Hur Villanueva (1938-2020): Sculpting Futures

January 26, 2020

01 Ben-Hur Villanueva - Pas De Deux
Ben-Hur Villanueva – Pas De Deux

Today, I discovered that one of my first mentors in art, Ben-Hur Villanueva has passed away in his hometown of San Mateo, Province of Rizal. I first saw Mr. Villanueva when I first entered the Ateneo de Manila Grade School (AGS) in the 1970s. It was during the school’s United Nations Day celebrations, when I saw him standing by the AGS administration building entrance, dressed as an Indian national, with a turban and mojaris curved slippers. He has his mischievous smile, as he and the other AGS teachers greeted us as we marched through the school corridor.

02 2009 Ben-Hur Villanueva - The Builders, Arko ni Apo, Baguio City
2009 Ben-Hur Villanueva – The Builders, Arko ni Apo, Baguio City

A few years later, he would become my teacher in Practical Arts, where Villanueva, and another AGH teacher Mr. Joseph A. Abando (1940-2008), would challenge me in other creative media, outside the traditional media of crayons, oil pastels, and paints. For me, one of the most important works we have done under Mr. Villanueva was the creation of architectural perspective illustrations, floor plans and scale models. In the classroom, Mr. Villanueva was stern but encouraging and jovial, while exhibiting a street-smart style of handling the classes.

03 2012 Ben-Hur Villanueva – The Passion of Christ and Mary, Cathedral-Parish and Diocesan Shrine of the Good Shepherd, Novaliches
2012 Ben-Hur Villanueva – The Passion of Christ and Mary, Cathedral-Parish and Diocesan Shrine of the Good Shepherd, Novaliches

After graduating from the AGS, it would be years until I would meet Mr. Villanueva again, during the 1998 CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Philippine Centennial celebrations. We among the artists called upon to perform side-by-side on and around Jun Yee’s “Isang Daan” art installation, at the CCP’s grounds. I would bump into him a few more times, as after retiring from his 30-year teaching service at the AGS, he has become more active in the art world.

Ben-Hur Gorospe Villanueva (1938-2020) was born in the town of San Mateo, Rizal Province. He would take his basic education at the Santol-Galas Elementary School (now the Aurora Quezon Elementary School, est. 1930s) in Quezon City, and his high school at the FEATI Institute of Technology (Far Eastern Air Transport Incorporate, est. 1946). He would later take his formal art studies at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU). After completing his studies at the PWU, Villanueva continued to develop his skills in art making; from portraiture and illustration, printmaking, and sculpture, where he specialized in expressive welded brass and carved wood works.

05 1975-1998 Ben-Hur Villanueva – AGS Principals, Paul V. Bartolome, Rodolfo A. Malasmas, Santos Ma. Giron, Asterio J. Katigbak & Florencio R. Cuerquis
1975-1998 Ben-Hur Villanueva – AGS Principals, Paul V. Bartolome, Rodolfo A. Malasmas, Santos Ma. Giron, Asterio J. Katigbak & Florencio R. Cuerquis; Ateneo Heritage Hall

In 1961, Villanueva began teaching art at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School, and would serve the AGS for 30 years, until his retirement in 1992. He was also activity is school events, helping design the sets and costumes of the Ateneo Children’s Theater, as well as creating illustrations for various Atenean publications; such as the hymn book “Sing, Sing, Sing” and the AGS Student Handbook. I recognition of his decades of service, several artworks of Villanueva re on display at the AGS Heritage Hall, including his portraits of the AGS principals: Fr. Paul V. Bartolomé, Fr. Rodolfo A. Malasmas, Fr. Santos Ma. Giron, Fr. Asterio J. Katigbak (1928-2002), and Fr. Florencio R. Cuerquis (born 1935).

06 2001 Ben-Hur Villanueva - Tayaw (with Abdulmari Imao), Bencab Museum, Baguio City
2001 Ben-Hur Villanueva – Tayaw (with Abdulmari Imao in the foreground), Bencab Museum, Baguio City

While teaching in the AGH, Villanueva was also active in various art activities in arts and design, joining local and international exhibitions and competitions; such as the 1971 7th Biennale International in France, the 1975 7th Segunda Biennale de la Habana in Cuba, the 1988 International Conference for TV Programming in Japan, and the 1989 World Annual Arts Festival & Conference in Finland. After retirement, Villanueva continued participating in such events; such as the 2005 Singapore Arts Festival, the 2006 16th Pyeongtaek International Art Festival in South Korea, and the 2006 15th Lantern of the East International Art Festival in America.

07 1970 Ben-Hur Villanueva, Ateneo Art Gallery
1970 Ben-Hur Villanueva, Ateneo Art Gallery

Aside from exhibitions and conferences, Villanueva was active in many art and educational organizations; where he has served as a member of the Printmakers Association of the Philippines (PAP), a member of the Philippine Association of Figurative Artists (PAFA), a coordinator for the People’s Council for Culture, Education, Development and International Understanding (PCCEDIU), a board member of the Philippine Art Educators Association (PAEA, est. 1968), board member of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP, est. 1948), the president of the Konsejo ng Sining in Baguio City, president of the Society of Philippine Sculptors (SPS), and the vice president-treasurer for UNESCO International Art Association (IAA, est. 1951).

During his tenure at the AGS, Villanueva was also active in educational television, working as a set designer for the People’s Television (PTV) Balintataw’s International TV Program Series (1987-1993). And upon his retirement from the AGS, Villanueva would continue teaching, but to the marginalized sectors of society. Villanueva worked as the art director of the Ephpheta Foundation for the Blind (est. 1969), teaching blind children how to sculpt. When Villanueva migrated to Baguio City, he started teaching wood carving to the youth of the Kankana-ey peoples, and other Cordillera ethnic groups.

Villanueva moved to Baguio City a few years after his retirement from the AGS. He followed the footsteps of his younger brother, Roberto (1947-1995), who had migrated in 1980, and help found the Baguio Arts Guild. In 1998, Villanueva opened the Arko Ni Apo (Ark of the Lord), a gallery and workshop for the local communities to learn various art skills. Villanueva would manage the Arko with his son, Bumbo (Ben-Hur Jr.).

10A 2000s Ben-Hur Villanueva – Thy Will Be Done, Saint Paul University of Quezon City
2000s Ben-Hur Villanueva – Thy Will Be Done, Saint Paul University of Quezon City

For the many years, Villanueva has lived by the Jesuit motto of “Ad majórem Dei glóriam” (For the Greater Glory of God), which has been evident in how he has lived his life. Villanueva may have just a handful of public monuments in Quezon City, Taguig City and Baguio City; but his legacy is felt in the thousands of students he has taught in the Ateneo de Manila, the Ephpheta Foundation, his Arko ni Apo, and the numerous workshops he has held around the country.

Pagpugay at paalam ginoo!

10A 2000s Ben-Hur Villanueva – Thy Will Be Done, Study
2000s Ben-Hur Villanueva – Thy Will Be Done, Study

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