July 14, 2024

We are residing in Barcelona, Spain for more than half a decade already and in the course of time, the feeling of homesickness pinches my heart, as I look through social media on the activities of friends and organizations that I am associated with in Baguio and Manila.
Although we developed friendships and social groups in Barcelona and in Geneva, as well as live in the comforts of a more progressive environment, somehow there is still that feeling of emptiness in my heart that longs to fill up the loneliness of home, nostalgic about my youthful awakening, rebellious adolescence, and adulthood – when dreams of tomorrows were conceived, moulded and remoulded, planted and transplanted, then what I came out to be in the course of time.
The visits of bosom friends serve as a balm to my longingness for the home that I grew up in. We would share our recollections as if we were opening an oldbook and turning on the to-be, one of which is to be the center of arts and culture.
One such friend is Effren Chavez who came to Barcelona just recently and stayed with us. He talked about the arts scene in Baguio in the ‘70s, which I also witnessed.
Effren is a visual artist, a painter frequently using watercolors as his medium. He and his family lived at the Stewart Building situated at Harrison Road corner Mabini Street, the back of the building of which is Carantes Street.
After graduating from Baguio City High School, he took up Architecture at Saint Louis University but after three years, he decided to change course and take up Fine Arts at the University of the East in Manila where he graduated.
In 1974, Effren came back to Baguio and set up an arts shop which he called “The Little Gallery” at the Stewart Building.
Effren recalled that his arts shop slowly became the hangout of various artists, among whom was Santiago “Santi” Bose, with whom he organized the first artists group in the city – The Baguio Group of Artists (BGA). Its purpose was to promote the talents of the local artists, developing the potentials of aspiring new artists, highlighting the natural beauty of the city and making it the center of arts outside of MetroManila. Effren was elected president.
Effren and the artists conducted outdoor painting and photography activities in various scenic places in Baguio like in Mt. Sto. Tomas, Mirador Hill, Burnham Park, also at Dr. Dimayuga’s residence, then farther off to Mankayan, Benguet and Mountain Province.
Soon, the group held art exhibits and shows. The first exhibit was held on Oct. 28, 1977 at the Pines Hotel, entitled “Works On Paper”, which exhibited the art works of the original members of the BGA, namely Dolly Aquino, Bayard Aquitania, Ver Ayson, Santiago Bose, Effren Chavez, Brando Cumpio, Rolly Caluza, Darnay Demetillo, Roy Ebba, Jun Gamueda, Mon Habito, Steve Hamada, Jun Limpin, Athena Magkase, Gloria Orden, Dado Pascua, Pyx Picart, Tenny Patacsil, Tony Romawac, Wig Tysmans, and Ding Torio.
Effren said arts lessons were conducted by the members and it was during the BGA years that the arts scene was alive and well, and thrived in Baguio. The group’s photography exhibit followed and was held at the Pines Hotel.
The artists soon became so productive that some artists held their one-man or two-men shows, one of which was the very successful exhibit of Effren and Mon Habito who were classmates at the UE School of Fine Arts.
The BGA also held art bazaars at the Malcolm Square; collaborated with Ofelia Cunanan, a fashion designer in a show entitled “Models and Artists” held at the Hyatt Terraces.
When Effren left for abroad in 1980, the BGA disbanded. However, Bose, who was then based in Manila, organized another arts association, the Baguio Artists Guild, where many of the members of the BGA joined together with other Manila based artists who decided to migrate to Baguio, including Ben Cabrera, now a national artist, and Pandy Aviado, other painters, performance artists, and printmakers.