By Kaye Estoista-Koo
Who would have imagined that a young man, with access to lots of wood thanks to a forest ranger uncle in Malabon, would turn that into something associated with religious imagery worthy to be called pieces of art? These are the humble beginnings of Maximo Vicente, Sr. who would become a master sculptor of religious imagery and santero (saintmaker). Born 1885, he established Talleres de Maximo Vicente in 1908, a year before he graduated from UP School of Fine Arts. Until his death in 1964, Maximo Vicente sculpted pieces of religious art, commissioned for churches and homes which could rival the craftsmanship of Europe’s sculptors.
Owning a Vicente meant fine taste and strong faith and his superior work made his work precious and sought after.
But when third generation family member and his granddaughter, Regina “Renee” V. Francisco, recently decided to move out of her larger family home, she had a difficult decision to make. For several years, her home had been the repository of many one-of-a-kind religious sculptures and handiworks from Talleres de Maximo Vicente. The pieces that had once been in the Talleres, first on Calle R. Hidalgo in Quiapo then on M. Adriatico in Ermita, were moved to Renee’s home in the early ’70s after the sculptor’s death in 1964. For many years, the remnants of Talleres’ existence stood as silent witnesses inside her home—as the commissioned creations of Maximo Vicente continued to serve as centerpieces and religious symbols in various churches across the Philippines.
Now, years later, the remaining pieces from Talleres de Maximo Vicente, with some nearly half a century old, would soon find themselves in need of a new home. Thankfully, owing to Renee’s close friendship with Rustan’s Zenaida “Nedy” Tantoco (both attended Assumption College) the Talleres display and sample pieces are being given a new lease on life.
“I mentioned to her late last year that I am moving into a smaller house since both my parents died already. And they, my father Maximo Vicente, Jr. and mother Soledad Hernandez Vicente, used to handle the business of Talleres. I didn’t know what to do with the 90-plus pieces. She suggested selling it inside the department store of Rustan’s,” explains Renee.
For a limited time, various Talleres pieces, some still made by Maximo Vicente himself and others by the carvers of Talleres de Maximo Vicente will be for sale at Rustan’s Makati. For now, only one of his original works, the life-size Our Lady of the Assumption, will be for sale. Renee says that of the 93 pieces they plan to display and sell, 19 have been restored and refurbished in time for the opening on April 11.
The special sale exhibit will run for the next six months or so, starting at Rustan’s Makati on the fifth floor and as more pieces become ready, expand to the home floor of Rustan’s Shangri-La Plaza, as well. Renee adds that an auction could also be organized by Nedy Tantoco as a possibility of making the Talleres pieces available to that niche crowd.
Indeed, owning and having religious works of art in one’s home requires space and the capacity for upkeep since many of the pieces have weathered many years.
Vicente’s handiwork started making their way into renowned and popular Catholic churches in the country primarily because “he was making art as a missionary tradition, creating something with religious statues and symbols that help people in their faith, to evangelize,” Renee says. “My lolo, he did wonderful work on the faces of each of the pieces unlike the ones you see today that are more commercial. You see there is proportion and realism.”
For those familiar with the Santo Niño de Praga in San Beda College, Mendiola and San Beda College Alabang, those are Maximo Vicente works of religious art. The main and side altar statues of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Broadway Avenue, Quezon City are his as well. The St. Vincent de Paul church inside Adamson University is also home to a Maximo Vicente. The 10-meter giant crucifix in Trece Martires, the Virgen Milagrosa, the Sta. Luisa in San Marcelino Church, the Nuestra Señora de Candelaria in Iloilo, some statues in Assumption Convent in San Lorenzo Village, the Alfonso de Liguori Church in Magallanes, and the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz are all homes to a Maximo Vicente.
Renee’s father, an architect who managed the Talleres after his father’s death, even presented Pope John Paul II with a Santo Niño made by the Talleres on a papal visit. In the ‘70s, then first lady Imelda Marcos also commissioned a Santo Niño for her hometown of Tolosa, Leyte.
Through the years, owning a Maximo Vicente piece has been synonymous with craftsmanship of such caliber, similar to the artisans of Europe. Making religious art has never been easy as there has to be a delicate balance between beauty and authenticity of the pieces, explains Renee.
Later dubbed as the saintmaker or santero, Vicente has undoubtedly become the most successful commercial santero of his time. For the general public, they can now start owning a piece of history with a few plaster pieces that start at P20,000 while the life-size is in the million peso range, and rightly so.
Renee remarks that each piece can be customized as part of the package especially if a prospective owner would like to make the coloring lighter, refurbish something that is old looking, or conversely age yet another piece. Authentication will be provided per piece and while Renee won’t be on hand to explain the provenance of each piece, details will be provide in the sale exhibit. Renee, who used to help out in making the embroidered clothes, the carroza or carriage that would bear the manikin in Bacolod during processions, is glad that the Talleres pieces will be available to a wider public now. From Sacred Hearts to Santo Niños, Christ the Kings, and relief work of the Last Supper and Madonna and Child, the partnership with Rustan’s allows these Talleres religious images and art to now find new homes.