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The Chronicle Of Esteban Lumanlan

January 24, 2010
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The Chronicle Of Esteban
Portrait Of A Nationalistic Artist

By Maria Concepcion Panlilio

Magsasampaguita  [#1407708] A painting of a Filipina stringing sampaguita flowers into a necklace
An oil painting of a Filipina wearing a traditional attire stringing sampaguita flowers into a necklace.

Esteban has painted many portraits of prominent people in the Philippines throughout his illustrious art career spanning over forty prolific years. But since he immigrated to America, this nationalistic artist, whose heart remains devoted to his native land, has lost his inspiration to paint.

Pabayan  [#1407745] A typical Philippine rural scene
A typical rural scene in the Philippines

The man who once executed in oils thirty huge commissioned portrait paintings of Philippine Bishops in less than three months, now struggles to paint. His heart is no longer in his art, for twelve thousand miles from his birthplace, he does not see nor hear the sights and sounds that he loves about the Philippines–the very things that put the art in his heart.

Esteban, the Artist  [#1407711] Esteban in his studio in Aurora, Colorado
Esteban, the Artist, in his Studio
(Photo by Maria Concepcion Panlilio)

Esteban longs to embrace the spectacular vision of Mount Arayat looming over his hometown Angeles City–the way he used to do while he painted under the canopy of a protective tree. He misses waking up to the sound of the crowing cocks at the break of dawn–the alarm clock of Filipino farmers planting or harvesting rice from sunup to dusk. On the canvas of his imagination he watches ordinary country folks doing their simple chores: women bartering at the public market, men on carabao backs; the silhouetted backdrop of fishermen against a bleeding sunset; and children playing sipa on the street. Ahh . . . just the simple things that can heal the aching heart.

Pinakbit  [#1407720] A Philippine dish that blends several bitter and sweet tropical vegetables.
A favorite traditional Philippine dish — a blend of several bitter and sweet vegetables


“I sat for a long time expecting Msgr. Pedro P. Santos to speak from the painting,” so begins a 1961 letter from Rev. Robert A. Rice, S.J. Ateneo de Naga, Naga City, to Esteban. “It is such a living creation,” he continues. “When Msgr. Santos unveiled the painting, the expression on his face is one that I wish could be recorded for you. I can assure you that it brought to His Excellency great joy and happiness.”

The Archbishop of Caceres was so impressed with the stunning life-like character of his canvas cloth version that he immediately commissioned Esteban to paint the portraits of the past thirty Bishops of Naga. The young painter was greatly challenged, not by the magnanimity of the commission, but by the extremely poor quality of the photographic source of the first Bishops to guide him in executing the paintings. “They were faded and very obscure,” Esteban remembers. “Imagine, these are men who lived during the Spanish times–as early as the late 1500’s.” But Esteban’s incredible optical perception and sheer genius and confidence in rendering true-to-life facsimile of his subjects in oils prevailed. In an unbelievable fashion, he delivered to Msgr. Santos the impressive portrait paintings of the thirty bishops in just a little over two months. The paintings now hang on the walls of the Archbishop’s palace.

Inevitably, his reputation as a great portrait artist spread like wild fire in the art community. What followed was a succession of art commissions for prominent figures of families throughout the country, which included: Maj. Gen. Thomas Moorman of the U.S. Thirteenth Air Force, Congresswoman Juanita L. Nepomuceno, and the portrait of Pope John XXIII, which was hand-carried by Bishop Emilio Chinese to the Vatican and presented to the Pope.

Another gift in 1961, an oil painting of President John F. Kennedy, was sent to Washington. In a letter to Esteban, Evelyn Lincoln, personal secretary to President John F. Kennedy, states in part: “The very fine portrait that you did of the President has been received and he asked me to send you this note of thanks.”

In 1963, the JAYCEES of Angeles City nominated Esteban for the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines for his contributions in the field of Art.

Esteban’s early successes in the Philippines include the ownership of an art gallery in Balibago for ten years before winning a bid to establish an art gallery inside the U.S. Clark Air Force Base (the largest U.S. Air Force Base in Asia destroyed by Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 that led to its permanent closure) For fifteen years, he maintained a monopoly of the highly successful gallery at Clark. Thereafter, he started a trucking business with a misguided thought that it would allow him to paint more. Subsequently, he and his wife, Millet, moved to the United States in 1995. Sadly, leaving the Philippines was like leaving his muse behind, and his art began to suffer.

Harvest  [#1407736] Harvest in the Philippines -- an oil painting by Esteban


Esteban was born on September 11, 1939, in San Fernando, Pampanga, but lived most of his life in Angeles City. Born with the gift of the creative imagination and talent, his first brush with the artistic fame began when high school students at the Holy Angel Academy (now Holy Angel University) commissioned him for a portrait painting of the private school’s founder, owner and president, Don Juan Nepomuceno (the first of Esteban’s several paintings of the Nepomuceno family). The late Don Juan Nepomuceno–a name that is synonymous to philanthropy, politics, religion, power and influence, was stunned by the breathing quality of Esteban’s portrait painting of him that he took the young genius under his wings.

Don and Dona Nepomuceno  [#1407791] Esteban in front of an oil painting of Don and Dona Nepomuceno of the Philippines.
Don and Dona Nepomuceno
Esteban poses in front of his oil painting of the famous Filipino couple

“He came to visit me at home almost everyday for two to three years,” Esteban said. “Most of the time, we just talked–not necessarily about art. For some reason, he felt comfortable talking to me. Imagine the spectacle whenever my neighbors saw Don Juan’s limo parked outside our modest house. He also frequently invited me to his social gatherings and introduced me to his family and friends.”

We all know that an artist’s genius with the brush is not enough to achieve success in the art world. The Philippines is endowed with many gifted artists whose works can rival those of the masters’, but they can only dream of acquiring such a famed benefactor to provide the needed exposure. If it had not been for the Ayala family in the Philippines, where would the late Fernando Amorsolo’s (Philippines’ National Artist) place in the art world be? Perhaps in the same well-deserved and rightful spot, or perhaps not. But one thing’s sure: having a benefactor is a gift (just like the God-given talent) of which every artist can only fantasize.

After graduating from High School in 1958, Esteban considered taking Architecture or Fine Arts, but changed his mind. Instead, he invested in oil paints and brushes and started painting professionally. Another rich philanthropist offered to send Esteban abroad on a scholarship, which he declined because of his ailing mother, and the discouragement from Don Nepomuceno. “He told me that my talent was a gift from God and if I tried to learn and be influenced by other artists’ methods, I might lose my own unique style.”

* * *

Forever nostalgic for his homeland, Esteban constantly dreams of his muse. Like a siren luring him to return, Filipinas whispers to him in his conscious and subconscious mind. Spellbound, Esteban heeds to the call and he stays with her many months at a time. When he is there and in the company of his fellow artists, inspiration swells within him and he paints feverishly, but not quite finishing them, leaving a body of work in Angeles City. Inspiration dies down once he is back in the States. His wife is agonizingly aware of her husband’s state of mind and how he struggles to overcome his misery. “Imagine,” Millet laments, “after having just returned a few months ago from the Philippines, he has already scheduled a trip back this month.”

“I know what you need,” a friend advised the struggling artist. “You need to get involved in the Filipino community. There are several wonderful organizations in the area that can provide the inspiration you need.” Esteban is also an incredible singer who once competed in the Student Canteen in the Philippines. “You can join my church choir,” Lito Santos interjected. Santos is a celebrated artist in Aurora and former President of the Bayanihan of the Queen of Peace.

Perhaps it was just the encouragement Esteban needed to lift his spirits–meeting and getting together with fellow artists and talking shop. When he goes back to the Philippines in a few days, he vows to complete at least thirty paintings and have a one man show in Makati, where prominent Filipino artists exhibit their works. And anything he does not sell there he will bring back to Colorado to show. This makes his wife very happy.

Esteban, Maria and Lito  [#1407689] Three Philippine expatriates united in the States through their love of art.
Esteban, Maria and Lito
Three Philippine expatriates united in the States through their love of art.
(Photo taken during an art show featuring Esteban Lumanlan, Maria Concepcion Panlilio, Angelito Santos and Nelfa Querubin Tompkins (not in photo), sponsored by the National Federation of Filipino American Associations.

(To be continued)

Author’s note: Since publication of this story in various multi-cultural periodicals, Esteban has been back and executed many paintings. In addition, he had a building constructed in the Philippines with various rooms for use by local artisans. He has been deeply inspired by all the encouraging comments about his paintings, and he is forever grateful to his fans and patrons who bought every painting he has exhibited recently. He is now painting for his own collection . . .art masterpieces that in my opinion will definitely immortalize this gifted artist.

One final note: Esteban loves the United States, but the art in his heart belongs to his native country–the Philippines. Today, he spends half his time in the US where his wife and children and grandchildren live; and in the Philippines, where his artistic muse resides.

Thank you.

Maria Panlilio

© Copyright 2007 writeartista (UN: mariapanlilio at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.



January 24, 2010

(Her ancient culture in danger of extinction, an Aeta child
in the Philippines wishes for the survival of her race and the
return of her people to Mount Pinatubo)

June 6, 1996.
My sentimental journey back to Mount Pinatubo after a long absence from the Philippines, was a more difficult trek than I had imagined. The once verdant forest that I remembered in my youth had been transformed to a lunar landscape with peaks of frozen lahar, and razor-edged cliffs rising vertically at a hundred feet.

Cradled in the bosom of Mount Pinatubo, Tita and I relaxed against a decapitated tree near a hot spring. Despite the lingering picture of devastation, the sulfuric smell from steam vents, and my aching body, it felt great to set foot on the mountain again. Tita grew up on this mountain, but there was no visible sign of her village. It was submerged in volcanic ash and mud.

I met her while she peddled the streets of Angeles City. Her eyes, shy and probing, were big and round beneath the bushy eyebrows. She had kinky black hair, wide, depressed nose, and dark, thick lips. She stood a little over four feet–the average size for the Aeta, also called the Negrito (small black people).

Tita and I felt an immediate connection and rapport with each other. And it had nothing to do with my gifts that included the Reebok shoes she wore. There was a strange sense of familiarity that created a special bond of friendship between us. Perhaps Tita saw in my eyes the genuine compassion I had for her people. She had not been born when I was privileged to spend a lot of time in her village as a young girl growing up in the Philippines. I was about her age then, around eleven, and the adventurous daughter of a businessman and friend of the shy and elusive Aeta. Or, perhaps, it was because both our fathers died tragically. Her father perished during the volcano eruption. My father was abducted and murdered.

Tita pointed to a butterfly on a huge pumice rock surrounded by a patch of dainty purple flowers. Its seemingly changing colors and transparency shimmered in the sunlight as it fluttered its wings in a slow motion.

Stealthily, Tita tiptoed behind the butterfly. Before I could stop her, she had captured the exquisite creature by its wings. She beamed as she offered her captive to me. I disguised my horror with a smile and congratulated her. “Be careful,” I pleaded. She surrendered the butterfly to me, which I enclosed in my hands like a rare black pearl in a shell.

How could I explain to a young mind the principles of freedom, and that, in essence, Tita was like the butterfly held against its will. The Aeta were exiled from their mountain–the only home they had known. With no adequate programs to help and relocate them, the Government scattered them in three provinces. Angeles became the tribes’ City of Refuge; mostly the streets. These people who lived off the land autonomously, without Government support or provisions had suddenly found themselves relying on handouts from a strange civilization they had managed to elude for centuries.

The Aeta were hunter-gatherers. Disarmed of their bows and arrows, they were lost and helpless in the fiercest jungle of all: modern civilization. They cowered and hid as though they were now the hunted instead of the hunters. Many returned to Pinatubo, but their mountain was not ready for them. Deprived of nourishment for their belly and their soul, the death toll continued to rise long after the volcano’s eruption.

I underestimated Tita’s sensitivity to something as philosophical as the spirit of freedom and survival. She listened intently. When I finished explaining my analogy and why no one had the right to unjustly hold any creature in captivity, a tear in her eye glistened against the chocolate skin.

Slowly, I opened my hands to set the butterfly free. We watched a perfect pair of delicate wings spread and flutter and the butterfly began to fly and soar upward, floating on air, basking in the light and sunshine all around it. I saw the sparkles of light in Tita’s eyes . . .shining jewels that could illuminate an evening sky like stars.

My tribal friend and I shared many things, including dreams. Hers were subtler and culture specific, but just as rich, graphic and detailed in imagery as mine. She asked why people dreamed and what they were. I was unsure how to explain dreams to her. All I could say was that they were the manifestation of our thoughts and wishes.

I was curious what a young Aborigine girl like Tita dreamed about. I held her hand and looked directly into her eyes. “Dreams are wonderful. They make us close our eyes and smile and imagine getting something we want so bad. What do you dream about, Tita? What do you wish for in life?”

She gave me a perplexed look. I smiled and teased her. “That cute boy who’s always flirting with you . . . you like him a lot, don’t you?” She shrugged her shoulders and smiled shyly. “Do you think about marrying him someday?” I asked.

She burst into a giggle. She squirmed, looked at me under her long lashes and nodded.

“You see, that is a wish–a dream. And sometimes, dreams do come true. Now, tell me, Tita. If you can have just one wish, what would it be?”

She thought for a long time. When she spoke, her voice was low, her expression melancholy. She took a deep breath. “I wish that someday all my people will come back here on the mountain and we all live together again like we used to.”

My chest swelled with emotion. I grabbed her and hugged her.

“Me, too.” I said.

That night, I took Tita “home”–to a shack in town. The following day, she would roam the streets again to beg for money or food to help her family survive. One day at a time.

~ ~* * *~ ~

It is a sobering thought that this culture’s extermination continues to accelerate. Unless something is done to prevent this imminent extinction, someday, someone like me can only long to experience such a friendship as that which I was fortunate to share with Tita. There will be no written history from an illiterate race. Future generations that will visit Mount Pinatubo could only hope to feel the essence of the Aeta, and hear the voices of a lost race echoed in the streams, trees, rocks, and the wind.

Any questions? Please feel free to contact Maria Concepcion Panlilio.

© Copyright 2006 writeartista (UN: mariapanlilio at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.

A Valentine’s Day Survey

January 22, 2010
A survey for my next Valentine’s article:
(1) Have you ever fallen in love with someone you’ve never met in person? And what happened after you did meet?
(2) “The one who got away.” Have you ever lost a romantic love for any reason then reestablish connection with that person after many years? What happened thereafter?
(3) What do you think is more important during the first stage of dating or relationship? Compatibility or chemistry?
I appreciate your feedback.  Please send your input directly to my email address:
My article will be posted here on Valentine’s Day (or earlier)

Global warming

January 21, 2010

Global warming? Where is it, Al Gore? Yes, I know about the Western Pacific Warm Pool (a band of ocean straddling the Equator north of Australia where the temp is the warmest, and even warmer now, by a half a degree). Wow! Is that really a lot within the last 10 yrs? I’d like to believe that solar flare activity, El Nino and volcano eruptions (ok, yes, and some human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions) cause the change in temp. It’s just part of a normal long-term up-and-down cycle.

(I guess I’ll never really find out if I’m right in this lifetime.  And if the 12-21-12 doomsday prophecy is really true, all of these concerns would be rendered moot anyway. )

Here comes the rain again!

January 19, 2010


Maria Panlilio on You Tube

January 19, 2010

Learn new dance steps.  Watch Maria dance and sing on You Tube…and laugh out loud.

Click this link:

Hello world!

February 6, 2009
Hello there.  Thanks for the visit. I just joined today (February 6, 2009), and this is my introductory blog.  Blogging is not new to me, having written numerous blogs mostly in political-related sites.  I have divorced myself from politics to avoid high blood pressure; therefore, I am redirecting my thoughts and feelings into something more pleasant: domestic and world travels, people, entertainment, art and writing fiction and non-fiction (sans politics).
Here’s a short introductory bio excerpted from my portfolio on the web.  When you find the time, please take a look at my collection of published and unpublished articles, short stories and novels, including some of my paintings and drawings, at:
My first story was published at age 14; then at 18, a short story was adapted for a TV drama series. At 24, I had a pocket book romance novel published . In the 90’s I quit my corporate life because “this girl just wanted to have fun” and I climbed mountains, skydive, travel, write and paint. Now-a-days I freelance as a corporate biographer while working on four novels. This portfolio houses just a few of my published and unpublished works, as well as my artworks. Enjoy
Maria in the streets of Paris -- December 2008

Maria in the streets of Paris -- December 2008