By SARA GRACE C. FOJAS
Portrait by PINGGOT ZULUETA
Her childhood in Camarines Norte sparked Helena Alegre’s interest in the gifts of nature. Little did she know back then that her animal playmates—the beetles and the butterflies—would find immortality in the jewelry she was, as it turned out, destined to create.
“My childhood memories inspired me to make Coleopteras (beetle/salagubang), Anisoptera/Odonata (dragonfly/ tutubi), Lepidoptera (butterfly/paru-paro), and arachnids as my subjects. I loved to run all over the school field to catch beetles. I would always get hit by an aratiles branch because instead of napping in the afternoon I’d be out catching dragonflies. Another fun memory is whenever I would get my ears pulled because I was caught playing with spiders in matchboxes, making them fight on a stick,” recalls Helena.
She started collecting antique beads and crystals in 1999, and turning them into string beads and chandelier earrings. In 2003, she had the desire to upgrade her material and skills. She moved back to Daet, Camarines Norte in 2005 and met key people connected to the jewelry industry. From there, she was able to take jewelry making workshops and seminars through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). She also had one-on-one tutorials for her craft.
From beads and chandelier earrings, Helena’s works transformed into sculptural jewelry based on the animals that she used to play with. The result was an elegant, exotic piece that would make the person wearing it stand out in a crowd.
“I titled each piece with its corresponding scientific name, order, genus, subfamily, and sometimes its phylum. All my works are under the Kingdom Animalia and Kingdom Plantae. I also have a series on Kingdom Protoctista. I draw each piece using pen, ink, and watercolor before making them into sculptural jewelry,” she says. “There are five basic elements in visual artworks—line, shape, color, texture, and space. This is where I derive my contextual ideas in making sculptural jewelry. These five elements need to be present because they build an ocular perception on your artwork. These linear features can be seen in my artworks. P o s i t i v e a n d negative space is also present to create a balanced composition. In Taoism, there are five elements too— earth, water, air, fire, and metal. These are also seen and used in my sculptural jewelry.”
Since her art is inspired by nature, Helena also incorporates social responsibility into it, creating awareness on the value of these creatures and their role in the balance of nature.
“I drew my inspiration from nature, science, art, music, history, culture, and now I am immersing social responsibility,” she says. “My critical thinking as an ‘artist-preneur,’ was awakened by the proper guidance of the DTI and other government agencies. They helped me think rationally not only for myself but what I could contribute and give back also to the community. The DTI also saw my determination and passion and helped me set up my very first jewelry workshop.”
Helena also shares that she wants to improve the jewelry industry in the Philippines. She is open to pass on the skills and knowledge she has acquired over many years of practice. “I want to inspire young people and do creative talks about jewelry art, cultural preservation, and sustainability/job opportunities among our community,” Helena says.
Her passion was further influenced by her artist/painter husband Hermes Alegre, who opened her eyes to the world of visual art. He inspired her to focus on what she really wanted and taught her the skills she needed for her craft.
“I am a very hyperactive person and my husband reprimanded me to focus on what I really want and what I am capable of,” says Helena. “He even told me that I should be good at doing freehand drawings as I was venturing into sculpting and jewelry making. Tiny Nuyda also serves [as] a big inspiration, and I fell in love with his vast collection of butterflies. I also meet a lot of entomologists and biologists, and I am a proud member of a Coleopterist society. I am a fan of the brilliant artist/ jeweler Celia Mulano, the father of Philippine avant-garde Ed Castrillo, and Gabby Barredo who encouraged me to create something bold and bespoke pieces.”
Helena’s gems are at the “Elements” exhibit at the Manila Hotel Art Gallery, along with works by artists Maria Magdamit, Marge Organo, Kankan Ramos, and Migs Villanueva.
“Every exhibit is different,” she says. “But ‘Elements’ is one of my favorites because it gave us freedom. Each female artist involved in it has a different specialization or discipline in the field of art. We individually visualize and interpret through various forms of objects that affect human interaction.”
“Elements” runs until Nov. 30 at The Manila Hotel Art Gallery.