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An Art Capital called Angono

Nemi Miranda Art Camp is a center for art workshops and other art-related events.

This rapidly-urbanizing town by the shore of Laguna De Bay has been regarded as the country’s “art capital” for the longest time. No less than then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo echoed this long-time claim when she visited the town and acknowledged the folks who are brimming with artistic talent in painting, sculpture, music, literature, theater, multimedia and other disciplines. While the official government declaration, and its corresponding budget allocation, is still being awaited since the 1980s, there is no disputing the assertion that Angono, Rizal is indeed the “art capital of the Philippines”.

This once obscure town takes pride in its hundreds, or perhaps thousands of artists—painters, musicians, sculptors, designers, literary and performing artists, artisans, and others who are indirectly connected with the art industry. It also boasts of having the most number of art galleries and museums in such a small land area, and touring it and beholding their beauty will take you an entire day.

According to old time narratives, art started early in this town more than 2,000 years ago, evident in the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs, an ancient stick figure art in carved the mountain-top rock formations. Tucked into the jagged cliffs of the Eastridge Golf Course, the site is maintained by the National Museum and runs and archaeological museum.

Uncovered in the 1960s by Carlos “Botong” Francisco, one of the town’s pioneer artists while on scouting for a venue for outdoor painting sessions, the Petroglyphs is an age-old proof that art has been part of the local way of life for a long time. Proclaimed a National Artist for Visual Arts in 1973, Botong is a revered muralist who interpreted the country’s most historic events on canvas that are now part of prestigious government and private collections. His name is a byword in the Philippine art scene and the inspiration of all painters in Angono and neighboring towns in Rizal.

Visitors can take a glimpse of Botong’s glory days with his memorabilia and reproductions of his masterpieces at his home museum and studio curated by his grandson Carlos “Totong” Francisco II who has his own impressive series of abstract paintings to showcase.

The Angono-Binangonan Petrogylphs are the oldest known work of art in the Philippines.

Doña Aurora St., the narrow road where the house is located, has been designated by the municipal government as an “art street” and adorned it with bas relief sculptures to honor him and National Artist for Music Lucio San Pedro, and earlier visual artists.

The vast gallery also features the works of his children—Glenn, Noel, Michael, Joy, Jan, Gay and Peter Paul, wife Loring, as well as in-laws and grandchildren, who seem to have adopted the modified adage of “the family that paints together, stays together”.

After the heady tour, guests can catch their breath to sip hot or cold coffee at the museum’s cozy BRKD café before hopping to another gallery.

The Blanco Family Museum will blow you away with its enormous collection of paintings depicting local events masterfully executed by the late realist Jose “Pitok” Blanco. A good number of the artworks features rural genre with actual faces of the townsfolk and his family as characters, including Pitok himself, who is easily recognizable in his trademark white sleeveless undershirt.

The Angono National Symphonic Band was founded by Elpidio San Pedro, father of the late National Artist for Music Maestro Lucio D. San Pedro.

Among the current crop of senior artists, Nemesio “Nemiranda” Miranda Jr. is arguably the most eminent with its massive body of works which includes murals, relief and tableau sculptures compiled over the decades. The homegrown master owns the Nemiranda Arthouse and Atelier Galerie, and the Artcamp and Tambayan, a riverbank studio, social center, and lodging quarters for visiting artists.

Now at 72, he recently staged a one-man birthday exhibit titled “Lockdown Series” where he is showcasing his latest works which he did during the enhanced community quarantine period, and depicted the same in his canvas. According to Miranda, he considers the lockdown which can perhaps qualify as a golden era for artists where they churned out their best works, being sequestered at home for more than a month.

Buoyed by his phenomenal success in the art field, he also ventured into the culinary scene by opening the Restoran Museo which serves Filipino favorites, and several bed and breakfast rooms.

Orville Tiamson is another sought-after name with his cubist, multi-media and avant garde works which veers away from the mold of the typical figurism espoused by the art community. Inspired by Andy Warhol, the versatile middle-age artist also dabbles in music and alternative medium.

Lest we forget, the town is also overflowing with musical talents, particularly wind instrumentalists honed by the rigid tutelage of the late Maestro Lucio San Pedro, composer of Suite Pastoral where the immortal lullaby “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan” derived its melody.

Angono National Symphonic Band or Banda Uno, the full brass band nurtured by the music legend, has attained a high level of musicality that it is regarded as one which sounds like a symphony orchestra. It is currently conducted by Jopi Diestro, a grandnephew of San Pedro and cellist of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

And if your timing is perfect, you might just chance upon an evening concert by one of the town’s symphonic brass bands at the municipal hall grounds or patio of the St Clement Parish Church which serves as the de facto cultural center.

For a taste of an equally artisanal cuisine, there is Balaw Balaw Specialty Restaurant which has come to represent the town’s culinary tradition. Founded by the late artist Perdigon Vocalan, it also has an art gallery dwelling on Pinoy myths and legends, a curio shop, and a store corner selling concoctions and condiments topped by the signature balaw balaw pickled shrimp. A must-sample is the minaluto, a family-size combo meal consisting of a variety of appetizers and viands. The native-themed resto also pioneered the production of the iconic giant papier maches where the municipal Higantes Festival was named after.

As a realization of a decades-long vision and commitment to the arts, the municipal government recently opened its Art Center, a three-story edifice which will serve as a showcase of the town’s artistic endeavors. Situated at the Lakeside Eco Park, the multi-purpose structure has a view of the poetic Laguna Lake which has evoked the artistic soul inherent within the townsfolk.

To see more of the town’s hidden wonders, stay overnight to get a feel of its nocturnal lifestyle. Villa Jhoana Resort, will be your proverbial home away with its mansion-like features of spacious rooms and private toilets, grand staircase, slide pools, and art elements.

With the confluence of visual art, music, cuisine and an alluring country life, Angono is definitely the art capital of the Philippines.

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