Chalkware is a molded figurine or statues from plaster of paris or gypsum. These chalkware items were cheap, popular and mass produce in the country. There are still some local makers of chalkware in the country but confined to small items like figurines, souvenir items for baptism, wedding and zodiac sign statues sold in Divisoria or Chinatown during Chinese New Year celebration.
year of the rat zodiac sign made from plaster of paris
Chalkware, Eskayola, Plaster of Paris, Carnival Chalkware
Chalkware started the rise in popularity in the later half of 19th century, in Staffordshire, England, France, Spain, Italy and the United States.
Photo courtesy of Professor Dennis Maturan
Chalkware is also called “Plaster of Paris” since large quantities of the material is found in Montmartre near Paris, France. Some would also refer the items made from these items as “Carnival Chalkware Figurines”. Small figurine items would be given as prizes in carnival and games during that era.
Photo courtesy of Professor Dennis Maturan
It was late 19th century when local artists and craftsmen would use the medium and eventually became more common in the early part of the 20th century. It is much cheaper compared to wood and can be mass produce in just within few days or weeks.
photo courtesy of Professor Dennis Maturan
Locally referred to as”Eskayola“/ “Escayola”, The material has a centuries-long history in artist’s sculpture studios as well as interior architectural decoration, folk and religious art.
Santo Niño de Prague made from eskayola ( photo courtesy of Professor Dennis Maturan)
Among the more famous artisan includes Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Mr. Isabelo Tampingco, Mr. Guillermo Tolentino and Mr. Maximo Vicente who would the medium in a lot of their works. Most of their artistic works are exhibited in the National Arts Gallery and other prominent galleries in the world.
Sacred Heart of Jesus made from eskayola / chalkware probably in the 1970’s
The downside of eskayola/ escayola is that it is soft, breakable and heavy. According to a local artisan, who specializes on wedding figurines and small religious chalkware statues. During the height of their production in the late 1960’s to late 1990’s. They can make hundreds of figurine in just a couple of days ( small figurines 1 to 3 inches height).
Blessed Virgin Mary made from eskayola / chalkware probably in the late 1970’s ( courtesy of Mr. Carlo Yap)
For small and medium sized religious figurines, It can take between 4 to 7 days. powdered gypsum is mixed with water, the gooey substance can be molded, shaped, or spread on surfaces. Molds are then removed and the surfaces are sanded or worked in various ways and with a range of tools, to smooth, refine, ornament and painting.
Buddha figurines- the one at the left side was made from chalk ware
Among the popular countries to source these religious chalkware were from Spain, Italy, France, United States, United Kingdom and Portugal. Some of the items were sold in pre-war Estrella del Norte in Escolta street. The items were an important conversational pieces in pre-war Manila. The collector would focus on the items which had brand name or those with signatures of famous makers or artisan.
Chalkware fragility, and art form is part of the overall appeal. In this regard, they seemed almost human, evoking the characteristic like frailties, hardship and mortality.
Local artisan would also craft wall decor, statues, coin banks,Buddha figurines and nativity scenes from plaster of paris materials.
My aunt told me that almost everyone would have these types of figurines during its heydays.
Catholic Trade in Tayuman, Santa Cruz would specializes in these types of religious chalkware until in mid-1980’s, while some local religious stall and peddlers would still have these types of chalkware until the early part of 2000.
Engineer Celso Buccat was among the first who started making fiber resin statues in the early 1980’s and the technology quickly spread among local artisan and prices of statues drop significantly.
I can still remember that my mom was able to purchase a holy family statue in Evangelista street, Quiapo early part of 1994 for just few hundred of pesos.
Several superstitious belief arose in handling of religious chalkware. One such belief is that whenever one breaks the statue, one must bury or burn the broken statues within the property. One must not throw the religious images on the garbage bin. Another belief is that one must offer the broken image at the nearest chapel or church.
Now, A big portion of religious statues are made from fiber resin, plastic or imported from China or Taiwan.
It is a dying craft and only small items such as those sold for souvenir items are being made. Those who have these type of chalkware must try to cherish them.
Bibliographies and References:
Tara Hamling’s Decorating the “Godly” Household: Religious Art in Post-Reformation Britain (Yale University Press, 2010) explores the uses of large-scale religious figural and ornamental plaster moldings, mantels, wall panels, ceilings, and other interior architectural decoration in Protestant domestic spaces from 1560 to 1660.
Personal communications: Mr. Carlo Yap, Professor Dennis Maturan, Edgardo Gamo Jr., Diana Religious Supply Store, Maro Adriano, Salvacion de Vera and Mr. Peter Andres.