By KC Santos
MANILA CITY, MANILA – In one corner of this historic house-turned-museum is an unassuming workshop where visitors would often spot Narciso Malaqui. The Pampanga native shares that there was indeed a thriving sculpture scene in Quiapo many years ago.
Tourists often drop by Bautista Street (formerly Barbosa Street) in Quiapo to visit Bahay Nakpil-Bautista and get a glimpse of traditional Filipino sculptures.
Narciso narrates that he was once the youngest sculptor trained by Maximo Vicente Sr. He was 18 when he started assisting the old sculptor who was frustrated as to how to keep his beloved art alive since his only son did not take interest in inheriting the business.
“Vicente was very determined to establish what he had started so he went out to find people who would embrace what he intended for his junior to learn. I really appreciated his strong will,” Narciso says.
Narciso later met his wife Marcela, a descendant of the Nakpils, which was the reason he would live in the historical house in 1978.
Time came when his mentor had to give up the business due to old age. Of the many sculptors the old man taught, only Narciso still remains practicing his craft at the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista even after 30 years.
“It was very scary for me at first but then I realized no one else would carry on what our mentor started. I picked up from his dedication so the others would follow,” Narciso says.
Despite very minimal marketing, Narciso has gained a strong clientele composed of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), cathedrals, and priests who has trusted him for his keen eye on quality.
“Commercial replicas tend to be frail because some manufacturers use shortcuts or low quality materials. For sculptors like me who completely rely on word of mouth, it’s important that I give them a reason to recommend my work to others,” Narciso says.
Narciso adds he does not consider other Filipino sculptors as competitors. The rebultos sold around Quiapo Church aren’t produced by city sculptors like him; these are sourced from Paete, a town in Laguna famous for its artisans.
Narciso makes use of batikuling, which is the same wood often used by Quezon boatmakers to build big fishing boats.
Instead of going all the way from their provinces to Quiapo every Feast of the Nazarene, devotees can purchase replicas sculpted by Narciso so they can conduct their own feast in their town plazas.
“It saves them all the trouble and it makes them share in the celebrations in some way,” Narciso says.
In his decades of sculpting, Narciso has already made countless retablos, paintworks, and replicas for countless cathedrals all over the Philippines.
Narciso says he never believed in miracles until a tragic car accident in 2007 left him with a badly broken leg and a numb right hand. He thought he was never going to heal and sculpt the same way again.
“Somehow this craft has conditioned my mind to think I can still do it. The scars are still very visible but my strong will keeps me functioning and it feels good to know that I can still pass this skill on,” Narciso says.
Today, Narciso says the works of Filipino sculptures at Bahay Nakpil-Bautista will survive. “The sculptures are just here in Quiapo waiting to be appreciated,” he says.
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