Baliuag Bone In-Lay Furniture
JULY 31, 2016 · PUBLIC
(Following is an article from the Ambeth Ocampo, Well-known Historian)
Philippine furniture also has very distinct regional styles that developed into a different set of “Bs”—Batangas, Baliuag and Bohol. Of the three styles, Baliuag is the most recognizable because of its aesthetic use of bone inlay. You can still buy reproductions of the iconic Baliuag chest of drawers in shops that specialize in “modern antiques.” These stately pieces of narra and bone inlay trace their lineage to Baliuag artisans who produced what may very well be described as the “mother” of all chests of drawers once owned by the Viola family of San Miguel, Bulacan.
According to unconfirmed oral reports, this particular chest of drawers was originally commissioned for an exhibition in Europe in the late 1800s. Whether the piece was actually sent off and returned to the Philippines cannot be ascertained, but it is a masterpiece in cabinetmaking. Cultural researcher Ramon Villegas describes it as follows: “The massive volume of this cabinet is masked by the contrast of light golden narra parts and dark kamagong structural parts, ornamented by a tracery of leaves and flowers on vine stems. The Viola cabinet has, aside from multiple drawers, many hidden compartments: secret repositories behind the split turnings; false floorings, and containers inside drawer housing.”The cabinet top opens to reveal a slim secret drawer, and two columns can also be opened to reveal small compartments supposedly for jewelry. One wonders what valuables were kept in this magnificent piece of furniture, and whether Maximo Viola, a friend of Jose Rizal who subsidized the printing of “Noli Me Tangere,” used the cabinet to hide his autographed copy of the “Noli” during the times when it was banned by the Spanish.It is unfortunate that if you go around Baliuag today in search of “Baliuag furniture,” you will end up empty-handed and bring home chicharon instead.
Among the three distinct regional styles, Baliuag furniture has the most European influence compared to colonial furniture from the two others. Altar tables are best studied for comparison and contrast: A Baliuag altar table is elegant in form and proportion; it is more restrained in decoration, unlike the Chinese-influenced Batangas table or the more folk or rustic Bohol type filled with carving. .Although these two motifs are the recurrent on all the altar tables, either singly or in combination, yet no two tables looked alike. And the variations in the interpretation of the swag are simply amazing. Antique Baliuag pieces studied by the pioneering historian of Philippine furniture, Milagros Jamir, are described as follows: “In appearance they ranged from a small one-drawer type with turned legs to those of two drawers and three drawers. The decoration on the drawers consisted of simulated panels of bone or light wood enclosing swags of bone inlay
”Furniture is a reflection of Philippine culture and should be studied further. Unfortunately, the main obstacle to writing the history of Philippine furniture is the lack of authentic, unrestored examples from various periods and regions. Nevertheless, extant pieces in museums and private collections provide the first step in the proverbial journey of a thousand miles.
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