Carving the Master

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2018 02:50 PM

In Paete, Laguna, known as the carving capital of the Philippines, there is a carver in almost every other home. Many of the sculptures that make Paete a tourist destination, religious statues depicting Jesus Christ's Way of the Cross and other saints, adorn local parishes.

What started as a backyard industry has grown to be the main source of income for most households in the town. The skill is passed on--from father to offspring, sibling to sibling, neighbor to neighbor.

In his small workshop in Paete, Laguna, master carver Felix Valdellon chisels away at a block of wood as big as himself. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Mang Felix, as Valdellon is commonly referred to in the town, is in the process of finishing two carvings in time for Holy Week, Christendom's most important dates. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Mang Felix knows the all-too-important place the sculpture will play in the coming religious ceremonies. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Life-size sculptures like these are more difficult to handle because of size, but Mang Felix has his understudies to help him finish the task. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

In the run up to Holy Week, Mang Felix and his men are finishing two sculptures, the La Pieta for the Loreto Church in Manila and a Crucifix for a church in Samar. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Beside him, his assistant carvers work on the rest of the La Pieta's finishing touches. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Mang Felix begins by picking the right wood, and then begins to work on the statue’s likeness. He will leave it later to his assistant carvers to polish and smoothen the details of the statue. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

For something like this full-scale Pieta, this project can be finished in a couple of weeks to three weeks. There was a time when he thought he will not be able to finish this because he had a mild stroke in August 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

His wife, Ely, quoted Felix as saying, “Paano ko matatapos ang pag-uukit e heto’t nasa ospital ako.” (How can I finish the carving in time when I am here in the hospital.) Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Like Jesus himself, Mang Felix was also a carpenter and the son of a carpenter. He came under the tutelage of his father who was the carver in his family. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Mang Felix was a carpenter until the age of 14 when he switched to carving. He used his skill to help him finish college with a degree in Engineering. He finished his course but was eventually drawn back to carving. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Using his hands to sculpt these works of art, his main clients are patrons of the church. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

As a master carver and also head of the family, Mang Felix's desire is to pass on his skill to his children. None of his children has yet to follow his footsteps, but he isn’t disappointed; he is mentoring his nephew who is now helping him in his shop. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Workers deliver the Pieta Sculpture to the Loreto Church in Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The La Pieta statue is unveiled inside its permanent home, the Loreto Church in Legarda, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The two carvings, shipped to two churches, one in Manila and one in Samar, will serve their purpose in time for the commemoration of the Holy Week this year. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The sculptures will find their purpose with the faithful of their respective parishes, but for the people of Paete, they will continue to be a testament to the skills and craftsmanship of the town's master carvers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News