Collection of Religious Chalkware in the Philippines

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/5we2yTnMkdChrJLc6

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).

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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.

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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.

Superstitious Beliefs

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.

9 Fun Facts about Our Lady of Fatima Chapel inside Far Eastern University

Our Lady of Fatima chapel or FEU chapel is located inside the Far Eastern University campus in Manila.

group photo of FEU campus tour by Professor Dennis Maturan last July 6, 2019

It has long been the source of spiritual strength of the academic community since this was blessed and inaugurated in 1957. It is under the titular patronage of Our Lady of Fatima. The chapel houses priceless religious work of art beautifully crafted by some of the country’s national artists and world re-known architect. the chapel is also known for UAAP championship celebration.

religious statues

National artist for literature Nick Joaquin’s memorabilia is also exhibit at the FEU library.

9 Fun Facts about Our Lady of Fatima chapel

9.) Old Site of ROTC Armory  – It was the site of old ROTC armory. It was a project of FEU Student Catholic Action during the incumbency of Mr. Herminio A. Astorga ( 1954-1955) and later on his successor Ms. Amelita Tanseco ( 1955-56) and Mr. Ernesto Rivera ( 1956-57).

Architect Felipe M. Mendoza ( FEU archives)

8.) Architect Felipe M. Mendoza– (May 26, 1917 – April 28, 2000) is a renown Filipino architect, urban planner, writer who partnered with Mr. Gabino de Leon and Mr. Homero Ingles in his early years as architect. Then he established his own architectural firm in 1951.

He designed the chapel in 1955 and two other FEU buildings . It took almost two years before the chapel was completed. Among his notable works also included Batasang Pambansa, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Development Academy of the Philippines, Philippine Veterans Bank, Assumption College , Antipolo, Sandigan Bayan building among others.

7.) International style architecture – This is a type of post modern architectural style which started in 1920’s to 1930’s which is related to post modern architecture. The architectural style flourish after the world war 1 in Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden and eventually spread in many parts of Europe and United States.  In the Philippines, This style trended in the mid-1950’s up to late 1960’s.

The style is characterized by an emphasis on volume over mass, the use of lightweight, mass-produced, industrial materials, rejection of all ornament and color, repetitive modular forms.

FEU chapel marker

6.) First Lady Luz Banzon Magsaysay and Education Secretary Manuel Lim as  principal sponsors  –  The chapel was inaugurated on December  8, 1957. The blessing was conducted by then Manila Archbishop Rufino J. Santo (who would later become cardinal). The chapel is 62 years-old in 2019.

5.)  Sitting Capacity and Standing Capacity – The chapel can only accommodate between 300 to 350 people at any given time. Which is small compared to the number of students, faculties and employees of the university.  The altar area was elevated by 5 feet so that those standing outside can still see it unobstructed from the Tamaraw Plaza, Independence Plaza, Freedom Park, Activist Plaza. Which a further 300 to 500 people can view the ongoing mass of celebrations outside the chapel.

4.) Talleres Maximo Vicente– Several religious icon found inside the chapel are carved by a well -known religious sculptor santorero Mr. Maximo Vicente from Quiapo district. He was commissioned to make the life-sized statues of Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima and Joseph with Jesus in the late 1950’s.

3.) La Pieta by Napoleon Abueva – This was donated by the Maestro Napoleon Abueva to the university in 1999. This was made from fiber glass material and the personal interpretation of the La Pieta in Rome.

FEU chapel interior- the crucified Christ was oil on canvass by Maestro Carlos “Botong” Francisco. and the halo at the center was for the Our Lady of Fatima.

2.) Stations of the Cross and Crucified Christ by Maestro Carlos “Botong” Franciso – The 14 stations of the cross is divided into different sections. The painting was signed on August 1, 1956 by the artist.  The Crucified Christ serves as a focal point of the chapel is made from oil on canvass.

tile mosaic

1.) Our Lady of Fatima tile mosaic by Vicente Manansala–  One of the rare works of Vicente Manasala in glossy blue hues for the facade of the chapel.

How to commute and take public transportation:

1.) From East side of Metro manila : Ride the LRT-2 Station and alight off at Recto Station. From there, look for Jeepneys bound to Morayta ( Nicanor Reyes Sr. street) . Ask the driver to alight you at FEU gate #4.
2.) If you are coming from the North or South:  Ride the LRT-1 and alight off at Doroteo Jose Station.  From there, look for Jeepneys bound to Morayta. Ask the driver to alight you off at FEU gate #4.
3.) From Novaliches/ Blumentritt / Retiro area: Take a Blumentritt route then take Dimasalang- UST – Padre Campa route.
4.) Fairview area: Take jeepney with Quiapo route or bus , take off at Lerma street. There is an underpass.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Dennis Maturan, a participant of the Balik FEU and UE campus tour
Note: There is a FREE guided tour conducted by the author or FEU tour guides (by special appointment) At least 1 week in advance reservation.

Sources and References:

Personal interview with FEU alumni

Commemorative marker inside the chapel

FEU Paragon – Mr. Conrado L. Venzon IV and Ms. Donna Mae Z. Catangay

 

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