There’s a distinctive smell of wood amidst the mixture of paint and thinner lingering in the air. I could hear the constant pounding of multiple mallets on chisels carving away pieces of wood to make form to an otherwise large piece of wood. Occasional sawdust fills the air when sudden gust of wind blows through this open air wood carving workshop. Paete Woodcarving has been a thriving industry since the Spanish era until now. A walk at the town’s market road, it is hard not to notice the rows of shops, selling variety of wood work and paper mache. This crafty town of Paete, north-east of Laguna have earned its declaration as the Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines back in 2005. Thanks to proud Paetenians whose generations of wood carvers passed their skills and dedication for elevating the art. Here we meet some of the master woodcarvers that have etched their legacy in the town’s history.
The Paete Woodcarving tradition runs deep in history, dating back in the pre-Spanish era. Even the town’s name, Paete, goes away from the Spanish colonizer’s norms of naming places after saints. It was a result of a misunderstanding between a native and a Franciscan priest. When asked what the place was, the native replied, Paete, referring to his chisel. He thought the priest was asking about the tool he was using. By 1580, Paetenians honed their craft by carving retablos and images used to ornate the churches in town and neighboring towns in Laguna.
Even at this time, families have continued the tradition Paete woodcarving. One noteable wood carver is Justino “Paloy” Cagayat, Jr. Already 3rd of his generation, his family owns one of the bigger open air wood carving workshops in Paete. Some of his prominent works are: the image of San Pedro Calungsod, which was brought to Rome for the canonization of the Filipino’s 2nd saint; the paper mache image of Ninoy Aquino, a work commissioned by the former President Corazon Aquino for Ninoy’s 10th Death Anniversary; and Paloy also got commercial fame when he daringly carved the mythical figure “Machete” used in the movies that starred Cesar Montano in 1990 and Gardo Versoza in 1993.
I watch in awe as Paloy worked on one of the religious image he was commissioned fto do. He prefers to use batikuling wood – a soft wood abundant in the Sierra Mountain ranges whose scent naturally repels termites, ants and even wood worms. Occasionally by request, he also works on pricier woods like kamagong or narra. We watch how he manages the shop and his people. He has sharp eyes as minuscule details doesn’t escape him. His workers are his extension, making sure the quality remains.
It would seem Paloy’s influnce on woodcarving has brushed off to the next generation of his family. His son, Franco Cagayat, is making a name for himself in carving model cars and other vehicles. Assuring the Cagayat art will continue on.
For inquiries on Paloy Cagayat’s work contact (+6349) 557.0641
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.