MANILA -- When Elaine Ongpin Herbosa and her husband were in Paris, France some years back, their retirement home was being built somewhere in the south of Metro Manila.
“I wanted our home to be colorful, happy and still see rainbows in our retirement years,” Herbosa told ABS-CBN News. “I asked the waiter what rainbow was in French and he obligingly wrote it on a napkin – L’arc en ciel. That was the birth of my new world.”
Throwing the towel as a stock market broker became an easy option for Herbosa in 2002. “The stock market was bearish during that time when I decided to resume art, which was in the back seat of my life then,” she shared.
“Also, it was like a baptism of fire when I had to create my gallery to accommodate [daughter] Mia’s grand show when she got the MacDowell grant from her school”
Herbosa, who counts Bobby and Jimmy Ongpin as her esteemed brothers, has two children. Alfonso is the eldest, while Mia is her younger daughter.
The adjacent building across the courtyard of their house became the permanent site for the private art gallery, which Herbosa called L’arc en ciel.
“In the year 2000, Mia won the biggest award at The Art Students’ League of New York – the Edward MacDowell grant,” Herbosa said. “Holding three certificates each covering four years in painting, lithography and sculpture, she was given a grant to travel to 27 art capitals in Europe, widening her vast knowledge in art.”
The mom was fortunate to be her daughter’s travel companion half of the way.
“Mia was required to have a show in New York to prove why she was worthy of having been the recipient of the coveted award. It was a smashing success.
“Then she wanted to bring this show home to share with her countrymen. She wanted me to book a gallery. With such short notice, it was an impossible task. A light bulb flashed in my head and I converted my entertainment area [which was on its finishing stages then] into a gallery.”
Mia shipped and insured each piece home with “overwhelming costs.” The show in Manila was well-attended. “It catapulted her to much higher levels in the art world,” Herbosa said. “After two weeks in Alabang, we loaned the show to The Drawing Room, a Makati gallery.”
Today, two decades later, L’arc en ciel Atelier, Inc. is busier than ever
“Painting, teaching, curation of many, many shows,” Herbosa said. “I have made a second home for talented artists, some of whom have soared higher on with their wings.
“I have taught hundreds of students from ages six to 87. I feel fulfilled having nurtured artists through all these years.”
The past two decades, Herbosa has consistently welcomed and mentored budding artists to her gallery. She has been a gracious owner and teacher, who shared not just her talent, but a part of herself to the new generation artists.
She stood guard, unmindful of the intense summer heat, to man the exhibit booth at Art in the Park. She allowed her students to shine and make a name for themselves eventually, teaching them the rudiments of painting.
L’arc en ciel has been actively participating in exhibits every three to five years in prestigious museums, galleries and art fairs.
“All our shows were big successes every time,” Herbosa said. “Mostly in Artistspace, Ayala Museum, Altromondo, Rockwell 8, SM Aura and SMX for Manilart, Tagaytay Highlands. I never advertised about my art school. People gravitated to me by word of mouth.”
This pandemic, L’arc en ciel Atelier understandably closed shop, especially during lockdowns, yet still did shows online. However, there’s nothing better than face to face shows with grand opening cocktails.
“We had one big show in October 2020 featuring three top watercolorists in the country and that was a smashing success,” Herbosa said.
“Now, in the new normal, we open our doors on April 7 for ‘Passing on the Torch: A Celebration of Art and History,’ featuring my daughter, Mia Herbosa, myself and two granddaughters – Nina Herbosa and Lana Agoncillo.”
Herbosa is “passing on the torch” to a new generation of artists in her family. Nina, the daughter of Alfonso, She studied at Beacon Academy in Laguna for high school. She submitted an art portfolio which garnered her a scholarship. She maintained excellent grades and the scholarship went on all the years she was there.
Painting since she was six, Nina joined many art exhibits of the school, where she sold out her works, as well as L’arc en ciel shows, according to Herbosa. At present, Nina is in her third year at the Ateneo de Manila University and plans to pursue medicine.
Meanwhile, Lana Agoncillo, the 19-year-old daughter of Mia, was born and raised in New York City and went to Waldorf School in Brooklyn. Lana is inclined to take up Interior Design when she goes to college. The April 7 show is her first, aside from those staged in her school earlier.
“Since early childhood, Lana has been drawing and painting in her own style,” said Herbosa. “Cartoon-like depictions of our family. Some quite poignant that I have framed and immortalized in my bedroom and home.”
Undoubtedly, the mom is very proud of daughter Mia, one of the foremost portrait artists in the country. “She is God’s gift to our family and to our country,” Herbosa beamed. “Twenty-eight years spent in art school is unthinkable, right? But Mia loved it in New York.
“Whenever she would visit Manila, she would give art workshops. Up to now, they clamor for more. There is a long waiting list for those who want portraits by Mia.”
As for Herbosa, she admirably reinvented herself in her retirement years, from being a stock broker to being an artist. “I owe this to Mia, who inspired me and mentored me unselfishly through the years,” the mom acknowledged.
Herbosa’s revered ancestors include Damian Domingo, the first recognized Filipino artist who established Academia de Artes y Dibujos in Tondo, Manila in the 1800s.
Domingo’s granddaughter, Pascuala, married Roman Ongpin, patriot and hero of the Philippine Revolution.
“Roman Ongpin supported and fought for the cause of the Katipunan by contributing armaments and funds,” explained Herbosa. “He established El 82 in Binondo, a hardware store that carried imported art materials and established fixed prices.
“Notables like Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Fernando Amorsolo frequented his shop and became friends with his son, Alfonso T. Ongpin, who later on amassed a huge collection of art including theirs.
“And that is how the genes were passed on to us,” Herbosa said. “Indeed, it runs in the family.”
On the Herbosa side, Herbosa’s late husband, Poch, was from the Lucia Rizal branch. “She married Mariano Herbosa, my husband’s namesake. Jose Rizal was his great grand uncle.
“Some of Rizal genes must have also been inherited by Mia and my two granddaughters. For indeed, aside from the patriotism and valor, he was an artist, as well. And a doctor, among many other talents.”
So, is Herbosa finally saying goodbye to the art world? “I am now truly wanting to retire, but it seems real difficult to do that,” she admitted. “Most of the artists are still tied up to my apron strings. (Laughed)
“We hope to share our art with you, varied as it may be, to show you how we are now ‘passing on the torch.’ May our ancestors be smiling down on us. This is our destiny.”